Foreign workers in the city during festive breaks: 'Give them space to socialise' - NGO [NSTTV]

KUALA LUMPUR: The presence of foreign workers at popular tourist destinations in the city, especially during festive seasons, should not be seen as an inconvenience or perceived as a threat.

MigrantCare country representative Alex Ong contends that this would portray Malaysia as a nation characterised by high tolerance and embodying Malaysian hospitality and friendliness.

He said this in response to the criticism faced by foreign workers who gathered at locations such as the golden triangle during the recent Chinese New Year festivities.

As videos depicting the influx circulated on social media, some labelled the gathering as "Mini Dhaka returns," prompting Ong to stress the need to reshape the narrative and call for the effective integration of migrant workers into Malaysian society.

"Malaysia is well known for its cultural diversity. Unfortunately, we seldom see proper integration among migrants into our society due to exclusion.

"Their presence at tourist spots in the city is welcomed, reflecting Malaysia's commitment to tolerance," he told the New Straits Times.

Human rights activist Adrian Pereira, who is also co-founder of the human rights organisation North-South Initiative in Malaysia, noted that given the long hours migrant workers invest in their jobs, it is natural for them to seek leisure during their brief annual break.

Pereira emphasised Kuala Lumpur's role as a converging point, not just for the Klang Valley but for all of Malaysia, providing foreign workers with an opportunity to unwind and socialise.

"Let's not forget that they are here on their own without their families. Their only companions are their friends. Many have not been back home for many years, so let's give them space to socialise.

"Do not be afraid when we see them in groups. Allow them to enjoy themselves as they mean no harm. And perhaps we can even interact with them by visiting their restaurants and eateries to taste food and beverages from their country of origin."

Foreign workers who spoke to the New Straits Times described the festive breaks as the only time they could relax.

A security guard from Nepal, who only wants to be known as Mahes, 29, shared that his brief breaks, especially during the Chinese New Year, provided an opportunity to explore the city, visit attractions, and connect with friends.

"I send most of what I earn back home because we are poor. So when I can get more than a day off from work, which is usually during Chinese New Year, this is the time that I look forward to," he said.

SK Basyir, a 35-year-old foreign worker from Bangladesh employed in the service sector, echoed Mahes's sentiments, emphasising the significance of the festive break for personal activities.

"It's too short a period to go back home to visit my family, whom I miss very much as I can only see them once every couple of years.

"My time off here is spent in the city, meeting friends, enjoying meals, and purchasing items not available in my residential area."

Meanwhile, Basheer Raja Mohamed, 58, a local restaurant owner, acknowledged the positive impact of foreign workers on business during festive breaks.

"Three of my seven outlets in the city witnessed brisk business.

"For years now, come major holidays, many foreign workers who live and work around the city gather here to catch up with friends, do some shopping, and dine at our restaurants.

"The vast majority of foreign workers behave respectfully and peacefully at my eateries. Hence, we have no issue with them. We also depend on them to fill the labour needs for various industries," said Basheer.

Adam Wong, a 51-year-old consultant who lived in Kuala Lumpur since 1983, expressed surprise at those uncomfortable with the presence of foreign workers during festive weekends.

Wong commended foreign workers for contributing to the country's economy, noting the positive impact of their spending.

"We came here (Kuala Lumpur) to earn a living and to have a better future, so do the foreign workers. If they contribute to society, I think it is fine.

"They are much better than the people who leech off the government and complain. Anybody of any race, ethnicity, or nationality that contributes to Malaysia is very welcome," he added.

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