Hornbill Unleashed

January 23, 2013

Facing the truth on illegal immigrants

Lim Teck Ghee

Whatever the findings of the RCI, we must realize that all these migrant streams – past and recent – have contributed to our country and deserve their place in the sun.

The main line of defence used by former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad in justifying the distribution of identity cards to foreigners and their registration as voters in Sabah has now emerged.

According to Mahathir, “One should also look back and remember that Tunku Abdul Rahman was worse than me, he gave one million citizenships to people who are not qualified and not even tested.”

“Why is it when he does it, it is not wrong, and when I do it, it’s wrong?” he asked.

He has since asked for a Royal Commission of Inquiry to look into the granting of citizenship during the pre-Merdeka period.

This suggestion appears to be borrowed from the pro-Umno author and blogger Syed Akbar Ali, who in a post critiquing the Royal Commission of Inquiry on illegal immigrants in Sabah, had argued that it would not be out of place to have a Royal Commission of Inquiry to investigate why one million immigrants who were mostly Chinese and Indians were given citizenship in Malaya in the 1950s.

According to him, “Let’s not argue about the fairness. Let’s have a RCI first on the issue – how and why one million Chinese and Indians [including my mamak gang of course] were given citizenship.”

Mahathir’s response has drawn widespread derision since his remarks have appeared in the Internet media.

His was not only a shallow attempt to divert attention away from his role in this unconstitutional operation by playing up to the chauvinistic feelings of the Malay audience. He also chose to malign a deceased prime minister in his attempt to get off the hook for masterminding the massive influx of illegal immigrants into Sabah.

There is no comparison between the widely-publicised citizenship deal for non-Malay residents who became citizens of the country based on the principle of “jus soli” (right of the soil) and the surreptitious citizenship-gifting racket that Mahathir and his gang ran.

One was open, transparent and agreed to by all the major political stakeholders in the country, including the Rulers. The other was underhand, opaque, known to only a small group of conspirators and objectionable to the citizens of Sabah and the country as a whole.

Pure idiocy

For anyone to suggest that this recent (and other similar) political gifting of citizenship is equivalent to that which was carefully negotiated to secure our independence is to scale new heights of political expediency, if not idiocy.

It is necessary amidst the scorn poured on Mahathir to note that he is correct in pointing out that the inflow of people from the southern Philippines into Sabah is not a recent phenomenon.

The free movement of people in that region is indeed part of a long historical trend. But this free movement was ended by the establishment of the two new nation states –Malaysia and the Philippines.

As a key figure in protecting our national interest – a responsibility which he swore to uphold when he accepted the position of prime minister – Mahathir should be the first to recognise the difference between the unrestricted movement of people during the pre-colonial and pre-Independence period and the illegal influx that he authorised.

The RCI hearing may yet bring out new discouraging disclosures on the way the former prime minister abused his power to ensure a decisive electoral advantage for the Barisan Nasional and how he sought to prolong his rule over the country by unfair means.

While we may not be able to do anything to revoke the illegal citizenship papers provided to non-Malaysians by the Mahathir regime, amidst all the gloom however, there is perhaps one positive development that we might console ourselves with.

This is that we are indeed a nation of migrants with the latest large scale influx of Indonesians, Filipinos and other non-Malaysia migrants – illegal or otherwise – adding to the diversity of the country.

The ‘other Malaysians’

Nearly 80 years ago, R Emerson, in his classic work, “Malaysia: A Study in Direct and Indirect Rule”, noted the large size of alien communities as “an admirable index of the extent to which the Malayan way of life has been superseded by the new economy” (Pustaka Ilmu edition, University of Malaya Press, 1964, p.195).

From his table (below) derived from the Census Report, 1931, we can see that “other Malaysians” comprised close to 10% of the population of the Unfederated Malay States (UMS) and Federated Malay States (FMS).

The census at that time had defined “other Malaysians” as covering “immigrant peoples from the Archipelago, ethnographically akin but politically alien to the Malays of the Peninsula, and “aboriginals ethnographically far removed from the Malays but more truly ‘people of the country’ than any other race – in fact the only autochthonous population”.

It is an irrefutable fact that a large proportion of the country’s now politically and statistically defined indigenous Malay population migrated to Malaya at the same time or perhaps even later than the immigrants from China and India.

The demographic record is that the Malay Peninsula was thinly populated by Orang Asli and native Malays for a long period of time. Beginning from the late 19th century onwards, economic development of the country accelerated with the establishment of British colonial rule.

This economic development was the catalyst for the large-scale arrival of Chinese, Indians, and migrants from other parts of the Malay Archipelago – notably Sumatra and Java.

Whatever the findings of the RCI, we must realise that all these migrant streams – past and recent – have contributed to our country and deserve their place in the sun.

Lim Teck Ghee is the director of the Centre for Policy Initiatives.


1 Comment »

  1. Pakatan Rakyat and Sarawak based NGOs should compile a comprehensive list of stateless Dayaks if they have not already done so to demand for immediate citizenship registration. Many Sarawakians are still holding red Mycards when tens of thousands of foreign workers and illegals had been given Mycards and granted citizenship over the last 10 years in Peninsular Malaysia and the last 30 years in Sabah. RFS should highly the plights and pains of the Dayaks who are still stateless and how the illegal immigrants in Sabah easily gained citizenship and given Mycards.

    Comment by Bidayuh Headmaster — January 23, 2013 @ 5:01 PM | Reply

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