Malaysia. Employ us, we can help solve labour shortage, say frustrated refugees

Reshna Reem Ganesan


June 23, 2022

Agha Andul Sattar, a refugee from Pakistan, shares his frustration about the lack of opportunities for refugees in the country.

PETALING JAYA: Many refugees in the country struggle to make ends meet due to the lack of opportunities – and the fact that Malaysia is taking on large numbers of migrant workers grates on them.

Agha Andul Sattar, a refugee from Pakistan told FMT that he and other refugees feel frustrated and unwelcome.

An Ahmadiyya Muslim, he fled from religious persecution in Balochistan and came to Malaysia in 2016, seeking asylum.

He thought he could find work in Malaysia but was disheartened by the lack of opportunities.

“Everybody knows the (Malaysian) government said we aren’t allowed to work, and this has affected our lives here,” he said.

Agha, 44, is now a social mobiliser and community developer at the North-South Initiative activist group.

He said refugees are often painted in a bad light by mainstream media, making employers reluctant to employ them. “But nobody is talking about the problems we face or the important roles we can play in Malaysia,” he stressed.

“Even during the pandemic when there was a labour crisis, we were more than willing to help. We are always ready.”

Kai Sian Pau of the Zomi community in Myanmar hopes that refugees will be provided with equal opportunities by law.

Kai Sian Pau, a refugee from the Zomi community in Myanmar, said the public should not believe the bad stories about refugees. “We are not bad people. The public just needs to get to know us and our culture better,” he said.

Kai came to Malaysia in 2010 because his community, a minority ethnic group, was being persecuted by the government.

He said many refugees from his community feel a sense of hopelessness in Malaysia because they are unable to build a better life for themselves.

“It feels like we don’t have a right to work towards our dreams,” he said, and the stress of going through everyday life had made them depressed.

Kai said the government and employers must recognise the potential of refugees and not exclude them, particularly in job opportunities.

“We can help (with the labour shortage) and can work because we are healthy. And if we can work, we will be able to survive without depending on donations,” he said.

He hopes that the laws and constitution of the country protect and provide refugees with equal opportunities.

Meanwhile, Rohingya refugee Saif, who only wants to be identified by his first name, said many Rohingya want to work and are willing to learn the ropes.

“However, they (refugees) are not given the opportunity and are looked down on by employers which makes them feel insecure and upset,” he said.

Saif, 27, left Myanmar for Bangladesh with his family when he was nine years old. In 2018, he came to Malaysia to pursue higher education.

Rohingya refugee Saif says allowing refugees to work would help with the country’s labour shortage and give refugees a sense of purpose.

Considering himself one of the fortunate few, he gives back to his community here by educating over 100 Rohingya children at a centre in Meru, Klang.

He pointed out that employers are usually hesitant to hire refugees and end up paying more for migrant workers’ documentation.

“Instead of paying large sums for migrant workers, employers and the government should use that money to employ refugees here,” he said, adding that it has been difficult to recruit migrant workers since the pandemic.

Saif said employing refugees would be a “win-win situation” because it will help with the country’s labour shortage and give refugees a purpose.

Malaysia currently lacks at least 1.2 million workers in the manufacturing (627,000), plantation (120,000) and construction (550,000) industries.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Malaysia (UNHCR), there are about 181,000 refugees and asylum-seekers in the country, 85% of whom are from Myanmar, including some 103,000 Rohingya.

The remaining are from 50 other countries, including Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, and Somalia


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