Monday, 24 August 2015

Rethinking The Strategy

I have read some of Shaun Tan's previous jottings on LoyarBurok.

Some of them made me roll my eyes before swiftly moving on.

I suspect he is a young man with ideals about how things should be, and it appears that he takes a lot of his cues from Western nations. I am not going to criticise him for that - as I myself used to be exactly as I describe him to be (and they say people in glasshouses shouldn't throw stones).

But in a move that probably would surprise the people who know me best, I am going to say that this time, he does make some good points.

Referring to the scandals that have plagued Malaysia, and the liberal Malaysian's response to it, he says:

The most tangible response is Bersih 4.0, a rally planned for the end of the month. Although it aims to gather hundreds of thousands of Malaysians together to protest in three of the country’s cities, its organizers intend to disperse it after two days, even if its demands for Najib to step down and for the implementation of institutional safeguards against corruption are ignored, which they probably will be. It is not expected to change anything.

Though suggestions have been made to expand the two-day rally into a mass civil disobedience movement – one that provokes confrontation with the authorities and occupies key areas in the major cities until its demands are met (probably the only strategy under the circumstances with a chance of success) – Bersih’s organizers seem to have rejected them, asserting instead that the purpose of the rally is to “send the government a message.” That the ruling party has ignored the message of previous Bersih rallies with impunity has not prompted a strategy rethink.

I can see where Shaun is coming from.

We are talking about scandals, that in many other countries (and not necessarily just developed ones), could have heads rolling. The French, I believe, sent dear ole Louis and his missus, Marie Antoinette, to the guillotine for carelessness of that very magnitude.

As Shaun has articulated:

Over the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB – a state investment fund) corruption scandal alone, for example, Prime Minister Najib Razak has sacked the attorney general who was meant to be investigating him, had the offices of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission raided to hide evidence of his crimes, suspended The Edge (a local paper) and blocked The Sarawak Report (a whistleblowing website) for reporting on it, and claimed that the $700 million transferred to his personal bank account was a donation. How, many ask, could someone who has so blatantly betrayed the public’s trust remain in power?

How indeed, does he have the gumption to remain as PM?

Now I am not suggesting that we emulate the French. It is not remotely in our culture to be as confrontational or as aggressive as the Europeans (or Americans, for that matter) are. We have been tear-gassed, but we barely retaliate by at best, returning a tear-gas cannister at the FRU. Often, we just grin and bear it (for lack of a better description).

To begin with, only today, I read someone on my Facebook feed stating that the organisers of Bersih 4 restrict their rally to a stadium - behind closed doors - to avoid inconveniencing the public and avoid skirmishes with the government and their band of entitled running dogs, aka the police.

It reminds me why I left Malaysia. I can't decide if it's apathy or well-meant concern for the well-being of fellow Malaysians.

But that sort of attitude is what empowers criminals to remain in power despite the evidence of their wrongdoings.

I support Bersih 4, because it is part of the process that helps us to decide what further we must do, but we also need to discover better ways of dealing with the corruption and misbehaviour of the people who hold the power.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Has Malaysia Become A Police State?

COMMENT: How ironic it is that many Malaysians are now being threatened for taking actions that are “detrimental to parliamentary democracy.” Actually, they are the very people who are struggling for democracy and political freedom.

As someone who follows developments in Malaysia closely, I believe that the greatest threat to parliamentary democracy in Malaysia today is Prime Minister Najib Razak, and the head of the national police force that he controls, Khalid Abu Bakar.

It is Najib and Khalid who actually should be investigated for violating Section 124B of the Penal Code.

Najib wants to stay in power, no matter what. For any politician, that is understandable.

For whatever reason, Khalid has chosen to be Najib’s lackey. He is ready to do Najib’s bidding and deploy his police force in wilful violation of the law and the fundamental guarantees of Malaysia’s constitution.

Najib as Macbeth

A good friend who also follows developments in Malaysia closely recently compared the situation in Malaysia to Shakespeare’s famous tragedy, “Macbeth.”

Macbeth, pushed by his evil wife’s ambition, would stop at nothing – even murder – to gain power. And to accomplish his ends, Macbeth would depict evil as good, and good as evil.

So it is in Malaysia today. Those who seek democracy are called the enemies of democracy.

Meanwhile, those who really are the enemies of democracy – the people who close newspapers, charge opposition politicians with sedition, round up the leaders of peaceful protests, and arrest government officials who are investigating corruption at the highest levels – call themselves the “patriots” of the nation and the defenders of parliamentary democracy.

How perverse it all has become under Najib.

Reluctantly, I have come to the conclusion that Malaysia has now become a police state.

One should not use words like “police state” carelessly. So I consulted the definitions that political scientists and academics use.

A police state is when police power is used to suppress any action that opposes the government, and to suppress any person who dares to criticise the government.

That sounds like Malaysia today. Najib is turning Malaysia into an authoritarian government and a police state. And Khalid is his willing accomplice, a law unto himself, a man who renders justice through Twitter.

Who will save Malaysia?

Because of Najib’s actions, Malaysia can no longer claim to be a democracy.

Democracy means freedom of speech, freedom of press, and freedom of assembly. It means that there are checks and balances – that the judiciary, the press, the parliament, and so on, can comment and criticise what the government is doing.

But today in Malaysia, none of that exists. There is no check on Najib’s power. There is no institution that can balance his power, especially when the police are so ready to arrest anyone who dares to criticise Najib, including government officials who are investigating the many allegations of corruption against him and his wife.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad already destroyed most of Malaysia’s checks and balances against the abuse of power, and Najib has now finished it off for good.

Will Najib get away with this? It seems that no one stands in Najib’s way.

Malaysia’s elder statesmen – Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, Musa Hitam, and so on are curiously silent. They claim that they care about Malaysia and its people, yet they do nothing about Najib’s abuses.

Only Mahathir has spoken out. But Mahathir is the man who corrupted the entire system that Najib has used to his advantage.

And now even Mahathir has become silent.

Where are the sultans? They also are supposed to be the defenders of the nation. Yet we only know, indirectly, the views of the Sultan of Johor and his son. The others are silent as Najib destroys Malaysia’s future, the great country that the Sultans have pledged to defend.

We know what Najib wants

Najib has decided that his personal survival is more important than the fate of his country. He and his wife care only about themselves, not Malaysia.

So the stock market tumbles, and the ringgit falls to its lowest point in almost 20 years. Malaysia’s bank reserves have dropped by over US$40 billion in just one year. Foreign investors are shunning Malaysia, and Malaysians themselves are sending their money overseas. It is the worst situation for Malaysia’s economy in 20 years.

But Najib doesn’t care. His personal survival is more important than his country’s economic fate.

Najib is now a desperate man. He will continue his relentless quest to stay in power, utilising every means possible, both within and outside his party.

The leaders of Bersih 4.0 and others who think that street demonstrations will force him to resign are naVve. He already has shown that he has no hesitation to turn tear gas and billy clubs on his own people. That is what they will face on Aug 29.

As things now stand, I cannot think of a good outcome. It is only going to get worse.

Cry, the beloved country. I can only weep when I think of Malaysia’s future, when one man is able to subvert the institutions of government and thwart the will of the people. And when the great majority of the Malaysian people, from former leaders to the man in the street, stand by silently, and let him do it.

JOHN R MALOTT is former United States ambassador to Malaysia.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Another Earthquake In Sabah

It has nothing to do with public nudity, folks.

This time, it measured 5.1 on the Richter scale, and was reported to have hit Ranau in Sabah early today.

We really shouldn't be surprised though.

Back in 2012, the Dewan Rakyat was told that Malaysia is susceptible to earthquakes, with Sabah and Sabah at risk of moderate quakes and peninsular Malaysia, mild quakes.

In 2013, the Metereological department gave us the heads-up again:

Located at the peripheral of the ring of fire and beside two neighbours, Indonesia and the Philippines, which have seen violent episodes of seismological activities in the past few years, the chances of being jolted by at least one moderate earthquake cannot be ruled out.

So far, Malaysia has only encountered strong vibrations and aftershocks after its neighbours were hit by strong earthquakes.

In 2012, the Meteorological Department had detected eight earthquakes in the eastern part of the country, in Sabah and Sarawak (between 2 and 4.5 on the Richter scale).

Six earthquakes had occurred in Sabah (Tambunan, Kota Marudu, Kudat, Beluran, Kunak and Keningau) and two earthquakes had occurred in Belaga, Sarawak.

However, an earthquake with a magnitude of 5.8 on the Richter scale in Lahat Datu in Sabah in 1976 is believed to be the strongest earthquake so far.

And then on June 5, 2015, we had a fairly sizeable earthquake that killed 18.

Perhaps, it wouldn't be ludicrous to expect more.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

What Happened On Mt Kinabalu

You know you read CRANKSHAFT because you get the news straight from ground zero - where all facts are corroborated by eye-witnesses and their friends/relatives, or photographs and videos.

Vee Jin Dumlao was one of the climbers who was stranded up Mt Kinabalu when the earthquake struck. I found her Facebook page and she explains that she had agreed to do an interview with BBC, and so posted a summary of it online.

Another account of hers is found here: Australian climber describes harrowing escape from Mount Kinabalu earthquake

But first, the Facebook entry:

I am a Malaysian born Australian national. I spent my childhood in Malaysia.

This was a trip I planned with my high school friend to spend some time with her.

When the earthquake struck at 7.15 am, there was initial panic. I heard shouts to run down quickly, which we did.

When we could go no further, due to sightings of rockfall, we quietly stayed put. There was a surprising calm and collectedness among the group, as if emulating the essence of the mountain.

The group of climbers stranded on the summit plateau were predominantly Malaysians. I recall thinking how lovely that Malaysians are enjoying their beautiful land. I also noted how fit and fast they trekked compared to me.

After the initial quake, we waited for instructions from the mountain guides. We trusted the guides ultimately. No one questioned their direction. We were told that it would be too dangerous to proceed with the descent because tremors continued. We would wait till tremors ceased for a significant period of time. And if they didn't, the guides were confident that helicopters would be deployed to pick us up.

We were mindful that it was cloudy and likely to delay any helicopter landing.

On two occasions we heard helicopters in the distance but nothing came from this. Still we waited patiently.

Many took the opportunity to catch up on some sleep having been up since 1am or earlier. However rest was disrupted by intermittent tremors and subsequent sounds of landslides.

We were told to stay in the middle of the wide expanse of the granite plateau and to remain above a certain point to ensure that we were not in the pathway of any rockfall.

Having anticipated a timely return to Laban Rata for breakfast, climbers had packed few snacks and limited water so as to keep our load light for our climb to the peak.

By 1pm, climbers had run out of water and were low on food. The guides collected our empty bottles and briskly ran down to the Sayat Sayat checkpoint, the closest fresh water supply. They risked further landslides to get climbers more water.

They returned to us promptly. But they had also surveyed the state of things further downhill. They told us there were many landslides and the route down was affected.

At 2pm a light rain set in, a cold wind blew up. Even with three layers of clothing and a plastic raincoat, I felt the cold.

By 3pm, our patience was wearing thin, still we waited. We were advised to huddle up, to help each other. Some climbers were faint and weak. My friend gave away her chocolate to a young man who was experiencing hypothermia. No one had any food left in their packs.

We were then told that the fog would make it hard for the helicopters to see where to land. A food drop would be executed instead to provide us with sustenance should we have to spend the night. We wished and prayed in all our different forms of spirituality for the clouds to lift.

At about 3.30pm, the clouds cleared. I recall that the wind also stilled. At once, instruction was called out for the climbers to be ready for pick up. We were told to hurry and assemble in our walking groups. We were relieved and expectant but the continuing absence of any sound of spinning blades diminished our hope for rescue.

Then we were told the helicopters were not coming till the morning and we would have to spend the night on the mountains.

The guides conferred with one another and a decision was made to make the descent down on our own with the assistance of the guides. We were assured that each guide would be allocated to 3 climbers and we expected to be met by more guides further down the mountain.

Although the trek would be perilous, our guide informed us that we risked more if we stayed atop the mountain. The guides were also wary of flash flooding on the plateau should it rain on the mountain.

The group neither questioned nor hesitated to comply with this decision to descend. Our one resolve was to get off the mountain as quickly as possible.

At 4.30pm, the descent commenced with climbers in a disciplined line. But the trek hit a snag when the ropes that climbers used to traverse a steep incline appeared to have been dislodged and the original route down decimated by large boulders fallen from above.

At this point, we heard helicopters above us. Interestingly, no one got excited about this. Apathy turned into disgust when we saw the helicopter drop the long-awaited food package into a gorge. This happened twice.

I am going to interrupt Vee Jin's account to show you the footage of the helicopter dropping its packages and the reaction of the climbers.

Menjatuhkan bantuan makanan ke Hutan..untuk monyet2?? GURAUAN APA ni..?? Kalau bantuan ke luar negara..sepantas kilat...tapi bila Sabah alami musibah 'pandang sebelah mata'...PM pun tiada suara dn terbang ke Arab Saudi..

Posted by Awis Francis on Saturday, June 6, 2015

A comment from one of the climbers, "Did they drop the aid parcels in the jungle for the monkeys?"

It does make you wonder.

If someone had bothered to package parcels, load them into the helicopter, fuel up the helicopter, rustle up some pilots, get out a map to gauge the possible locations where the climbers could be - that's a lot of effort - why didn't they take as much care to make the drops where the climbers could pick them up??

I can't decide if that was lazy or stupid.

But back to the story (it really does sound like an action/thriller movie):

There was no time to lament. At two points in the descend, climbers had to abseil down rock faces, holding on to some ropes, which appeared to be the only the equipment at hand. Climbers navigated through fallen boulders, loose stones, broken trees, completely and correctly trusting the guides' direction with every step.

While lowering myself down a rock face, I saw two mangled bodies on the slope among the rubble of a landslide. While attempting to stay focused on the trek, I found myself feeling rage, grief, dread and shock for the first time that day.

Grief for the perished, shocked that the situation was worse than imagined and that I could have been killed by the landslide if I had been a faster trekker earlier that morning. Rage that the promised help of a helicopter rescue did not arrive and dread that the rest of the journey ahead was dangerous and further landslides quite possible.

Still we pressed on. Many abseiling in the fading light and eventually the dark. We reached a dark powerless rest house at Laban Rata at 7.30pm.

I noticed a number of uniformed personnel on site but they did not appear to be carrying out any task. I was told they had arrived on foot at 4pm, too tired to be of any real help. I saw mountain guides and Laban Rata rest house staff busy organising food, water and light for the climbers.

I noticed a covered corpse on a stretcher against the counter and as I burst into tears, a guide put a comforting hand on my shoulder and another said I had to stay strong because we still had a long way to go.

We had a few minutes to gather the belongings we had left in the rest house earlier that morning. There was no panic, no confusion. The guides directed us to assemble outside in an orderly line readying to complete our journey to Timpohon, the base of the trek.

I observed a guide padding up the handles of a stretcher carrying a female, in preparation for the trek down.

We were tired. At this point though food was available, the urgency to get down the mountain overrode any other need.

There are 7 huts in the route between Laban Rata and Timpohon. As we approached Hut No. 3 or 4, I cannot be certain which, there was a congregation of uniformed men occupying the shelter and the seats. The smell of cigarette smoke strong. We were asked " are you okay?" and offered bottles of water. When it was evident that no further assistance was going to be given, our guide simply directed us to keep moving.

Further aftershocks were felt. At 9pm, trees rustled violently and the now familiar sound of rockfall was heard in the distance. We rushed along anticipating the possibility of being hit by boulders.

Although we were at the head of the line behind our guide, being slow walkers, many climbers eventually overtook us. This gave me an opportunity to observe how climbers helped one another. Men held on tightly to the arms of exhausted women who could hardly put one foot in front of the other. One climber lighting up the way for another with his torchlight. Many asking if we needed help because we had stopped to catch our breath. Most of all, I was mindful that it must have taken every ounce of willpower for our guide to restrict himself to our painfully slow pace. And yet he was always just ahead shining his torch to light the way for us.

There had been a small landslide after hut number 3 which caused part of the path to collapse. Emergency services had secured some rope as safety barriers to help climbers cross the one-metre wide boarded path safely. While I was grateful for the assistance, I thought it ironic, after what we had already been through, when they urged us to be very careful because it was a very dangerous crossing.

When we reached Timpohon gate, I finally allowed a uniformed personnel to carry my bag for the final 10 concrete steps.

We were told to make our way into the medical tent for a check. The doctor asked if I had a lift to the parks headquarters which was still a few kilometres away. When I inquired if there was transportation provided, I was told there wasn't. Our guide organised to have us transported in a van shuttling some mountain guides.

We were too exhausted to feel relief even when we reached park headquarters. But it was a comfort when a gentle lady called Julie whom I believe worked with Sabah Parks, talked to us, asked after our condition and insisted that we take some hot food away with us when we said we just wanted to leave.

This is my recount of events as I perceived it. I have no answers for anyone who asks me why the helicopters did not pick us up. I can find no reasonable explanation for the delayed arrival of emergency services.

But I know what I can expect of the mountain guides. To claim that they did their job with integrity, dedication and genuine care for the people of Malaysia and the foreigners, would be an understatement.

Would I return to Mt Kinabalu? Yes, I certainly hope so, as long as the mountain guides are given the resources, equipment and authority to support the job they already do so well.

What do I want to say to Malaysians affected directly or indirectly by the earthquake?

I have witnessed the care and sense of community inherent in the people of Malaysia, regardless of race, religion or wealth. I am impressed by the talents, intelligence, resourcefulness, resolve in them. They deserve to be protected, fought for, respected and celebrated by their leaders whose ultimate duty ought to be putting the people first.

Vee Jin Dumlao
Written on 8 June 2015.

If you read the mainstream media, you may have been inundated with stories about how the Search & Rescue (SAR) team have done so much.

Based on all the stories I have heard, that is a lie. Most of the SAR was done by the mountain guides themselves.

And they are still doing it.

These mountain guides have volunteered themselves to rescue the remaining climbers stranded up the mountain or even more disconcerting, to bring down the bodies of those who didn't survive.

The administration in Putrajaya have failed the people of Sabah, and Putrajaya should be ashamed of themselves.

A piece by Darian Goh of Says adds another perspective in SABAH QUAKE: Was Our Malaysian Search And Rescue Team Really "Slow And Unresponsive"?

Many points that have been made are relevant. The pilot of the helicopter may have had trouble at high altitudes, in trying to gauge the right location to release the parcels.

And Search & Rescue may not have been physically fit enough to ascend the mountain at the same speeds as the mountain guides, as they obviously don't do it on a regular basis, which explains the delay in rescuing stranded climbers.

But the main issue I have, is that almost none of the mainstream news published before June 7 made any mention at all of the mountain guides' role.

They just made it sound like everything was accomplished by the Search & Rescue services, which is wrong.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Catastrophic Journalism

This piece of "journalism" is a disaster of cataclysmic proportions (pun intended).

Here's why:

Firstly, the earthquake that occurred in Sabah is about some thousand miles away from the capital, Kuala Lumpur. In fact, it is even separated by the Banjaran Titiwangsa (Titiwangsa Range) and the South China Sea.

The truth is, Sabah is closer to the Philippines and Indonesia than it is to Kuala Lumpur!

That being said, I am pleasantly surprised to see that Malaysians from all over the country are taking an interest in the developments instead of dismissing it as an incident in a place far, far away.

The second issue I have with the article above is that the picture is not even from Malaysia, much less of the Sabah earthquake.

There are loads of fake photos floating about - originally from previously earthquakes that have occurred in Nepal, Myanmar, Thailand.

As Cilisos says, stop spreading misinformation.

It is sad to know that people have died, but we don't need to sensationalise it.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Earthquake In Sabah?

An earthquake of magnitude 6.0 at 40km deep occurred near Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, at 7.15am today, reports the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre.

Initial reports from the Malaysian Meteorological Services Department said the quake, measuring 5.7, struck 25km northwest of Ranau at 7.15am.

Read the rest at The Malaysian Insider.

UPDATE: at 11:30PM, Saturday, 6 June

Tremors were felt around the west coast and interiors of Sabah, but Mt Kinabalu and Ranau were the worst-hit. There have been several on-going aftershocks as well.

Several landslides have occurred as a consequence, and climbers on Mt Kinabalu were stranded. It was particularly unfortunate that the earthquake occurred at 7:15AM, as the climbers usually reach the peak at about 6:00AM for sunrise.

Rescue operations are underway, and climbing Mt Kinabalu has been cancelled. I doubt anyone really wants to go up anyway. Not at this moment.

According to search and rescue, the death toll is not expected to exceed 18 altogether. This is based on the assumption that the 6 still-missing people are dead. However, everyone else is accounted for.

The losses include a 12 year old Singaporean student and an experienced mountain guide.

Robbi Sapinggi was accompanying climbers when he was hit by falling rocks.

Despite being injured, Robbi’s only thought was for the welfare of his guest, urging his guest to continue ahead to climb down the mountain to safety.

Unfortunately, Robbi himself was unable to make it down the mountain in time to receive proper medical attention, and he died from loss of blood.

Going by the comments on social media, Robbi Sapinggi was a selfless and much-loved man. My thoughts go out to his family.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

The Restructuring Of Malaysia Airlines

If you've been following the news of the Malaysia Airlines restructuring plan, you'd probably have heard about the new CEO, Christoph Mueller.

I am not impressed.

What Malaysia Airlines experienced in the past year is unprecedented.

This sort of crisis is not resolved by hiring some foreigner who has no clue what the real issues are.

I imagine he has showed up for the money.

If you're wondering, folks, there is RM6bil involved in this restructuring exercise, and a sizeable chunk of it would be his salary.

I say this on the assumption that he is paid more than he was in the past - in 2013, he was paid over €1.5 million (that's RM6.24 million).

This is all while he calmly fires 6,000 employees - some of those who, out of loyalty, chose to remain with the company, while others - about 200 of them - decided they were better off elsewhere. It was probably a good decision to leave.

I predict that he himself will leave without making any improvements to Malaysia Airlines.

He will also undoubtedly have a totally unremarkable quote when he leaves. "It was an impossible task," or "The damage was beyond repair."

Malaysia Airlines has been in the red since 2010. This is very baffling situation, because it's not the first time - back in 2006, Malaysia Airlines was also decidedly unprofitable.

Then some powers-that-be decided to bring in a relative unknown named Idris Jala. Read what Flight Global has to say about him.

Idris Jala joined Malaysia Airlines with a remit to turn the carrier's burgeoning losses into profits. That goal has been met but there remains a long road to reinvention

At this time two years ago, Malaysia Airlines was in deep trouble. It had just reported the biggest-ever loss in its history. Today, posters are going up at its offices with the words "Record Profits". It is a remarkable turn of events for an airline that not so long ago warned it was likely to fail without an immediate and sweeping restructuring.

But chief executive Idris Jala is cautioning staff that while they should be celebrating successes, the restructuring effort is far from complete. Deeper, structural change now needs to take place to turn MAS into what he calls "the world's five star value ­carrier" - essentially a high-quality airline with the cost base of a budget operator.

According to the grapevine, there were lots of changes that he made, and very few of them were earth shattering. They mostly involved getting rid of cronies who were making ridiculous profits by selling their good and services at over-inflated prices.

A bottle of water for RM30. Maintenance equipment like wrenches for thousands.

Idris Jala put an end to this and voila, in 2008, the company turned around and made "record profits."

Read this account by Rashid Khan in The Malaysian Insider - MAS turnaround story was real

In the meantime, Malaysia has had its general elections. In an effort to remain in power, Malaysia Airlines was enlisted by the BN government to ferry voters around. That could not have been cheap.

Back then, they probably had no idea that this level of catastrophe could ever happen.

Perhaps that's why they need a foreigner.

So that he doesn't go digging around and finding skeletons in the closet.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Know Your Numbers

I never thought I'd ever say this, but it looks like Malaysia has actually been pulling its weight, when it comes to accepting refugees and asylum-seekers.

This latest spate of research came about because Malaysia seems to be starkly divided on the topic of refugees. I wanted to weigh the facts up for themselves.

I realise that the font is small and does not make the best reading so here is the text from the UNHCR website: Know your numbers

As of end April 2015, there are some 152,830 refugees and asylum-seekers registered with UNHCR in Malaysia.

- 141,920 are from Myanmar, comprising some 49,600 Chins, 45,910 Rohingyas, 12,320 Myanmar Muslims, 7,280 Rakhines & Arakanese, and other ethnicities from Myanmar.

- There are some 10,910 refugees and asylum-seekers from other countries, including some 3,890 Sri Lankans, 1,210 Pakistanis, 1,090 Somalis, 950 Syrians, 830 Iraqis, 540 Iranians, 430 Palestinians, and others from other countries.

Some 69% of refugees and asylum-seekers are men, while 31% are women.

There are some 33,000 children below the age of 18.

I did the maths. Almost 93% of the refugees in Malaysia are from Myanmar, which does suggest that Myanmar has a problem that it needs to fix.

My fellow blogger, Helen Ang, has mentioned numerous times in her postings that the Rohingya are economic migrants. She also illustrates her point with examples regarding the Vietnamese and Sri Lankans.

I have personally met Vietnamese who have resettled in Western countries and most of them have no desire to return to their land of birth. In fact, most of them are very proud to have relocated and are, in their own words, "lucky to be here."

Definitely economic migrants.

But back to the Rohingya, if they were merely escaping persecution, why do they not return to Bangladesh? There, they would not be stigmatised for their skin colour or religion.

Is it because they are hoping for better jobs and prospects in affluent countries rather than in Bangladesh?

Seriously. I just wish that people would fix the country that they live in instead of trying to find themselves a new one.

It's not that I don't have any compassion for their hardships. I do. In the Guardian, their sufferings are described in Burma’s boatpeople ‘faced choice of annihilation or risking their lives at sea'.

Nevertheless, this passage caught my eye:

Many of the women endure rape or other sexual violence on the boats or while waiting to travel, and many others are forced into marriage with men who pay for their journey.

Mothers travelling with children are also particularly vulnerable to starvation, as young travellers are given no rations so women often go hungry to ensure that their sons and daughters can eat.

Now, I sympathise with the mothers. It is typical of maternal selflessness; one that I am witnessing in the form of my sister and her one year old rugrat.

However, what stopped me in my tracks is that the women endure rape on the boats. That very strongly implies that the other passengers on the boats, fellow refugees, are guilty of sexual violence and abuse.

If we give amnesty to everyone on that refugee boat, are we allowing rapists and sex predators into our country?

What worries me is that Malaysia does not provide welfare and segregate the refugees.

Under 04 Living As A Refugee In Malaysia, the Malaysian chapter of the UNHCR says that, "There are no refugee camps in Malaysia. Instead, refugees live in cities and towns across Malaysia in low-cost flats or houses side by side local Malaysian homes."

Are we going to be allowing just about anyone into our country?

Almost every country around the world requires a background check for migration purposes. We evidently don't and can't with refugees, as most of them don't even have legal documents with them.

I know that in the UK, refugees are housed in camps and detention centres. Or later, in tower blocks. But they aren't immediately released into society. Even before that, their asylum application is assessed to ensure it is genuine.

The processing of refugees worries me, because as much as I care for human life, I also care about the average Malaysian citizen. The crime rate, as it is, is extremely high.

Helen claims that the Rohingya are suspected of bringing to Malaysia their blood feud against Buddhists.

I was skeptical, as some governments conveniently blame social ills on low-skilled migrants, but the murder rate amongst Myanmarese does seem inordinately high.

Are we inviting further problems into our country?

We should pay more attention to the welfare of Malaysians, instead of putting that of the refugees above it.

If the refugees were truly desperate to live in a Muslim country, free of attacks and persecution, they should take up Gambia on its offer.

Gambia has said that it will take all Rohingya refugees as part of its “sacred duty” to alleviate the suffering of fellow Muslims flooding south-east Asia to escape oppression.

Good on Gambia.

Now the ball is on the Rohingya court.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Bad Politics And Boatloads Of Refugees

A little bird tells me (okay, it was the Rakyat Times) that Tash Aw of The Harmony Silk Factory (I have actually read the book) fame, has waded into the huge conundrum of what to do with the Rohingya refugees.

To be fair, he makes some really good points about Malaysia stepping up to its role as ASEAN chair and using its economic power to deal with Myanmar.

After all, Malaysia has $1.65 billion worth of trade deals with Myanmar. That is no small amount.

It turns out that Myanmar also has gas, and Petronas is the principal foreign partner (yes, Malaysia unfailingly perks up at the mention of oil and gas) in the Yetagun offshore gas field.

For obvious reasons, Malaysia would have to think twice about upsetting Myanmar.

So like everyone else, I was rather surprised when the Foreign Minister, Anifah Aman, actually met up with his Myanmarese counterpart and "asked for a guarantee from the Myanmar government to help in tackling the crisis while also stressing on the importance of Myanmar identifying and resolving the main cause of the problem."

That is progress because it tackles the root of the problem at this point: Myanmar.

Myanmar has categorically marginalised the Rohingya people. And bloody Aung San Suu Kyi has not said a damn thing about it; so much for her Nobel Peace Prize. Pooh.

One point that Myanmar repeatedly makes is that Rohingya are not inherently citizens of Myanmar. The accusation is that they are economic migrants from Bangladesh.

Assuming that this is true, this would force us to shift our attention to Bangladesh.

Now Bangladesh is a whole new can of worms.

I presume that at one point in time, it was part of India - back in those days when borders were superfluous and people moved about as they wished.

Then the British showed up, and after a prolonged battle for independence, India became a sovereign nation, resulting in many Muslims moving up to Pakistan.

Bangladesh was considered East Pakistan, before it finally seceded from Pakistan.

The governance of Bangladesh has always been pathetic. Like India, there has been assassinations, but the power has always been a game of musical chairs between the Zia dynasty, the Sheikh dynasty and the military.

Actually, it's been more of a wrestling match than game of musical chairs. But I digress.

All three groups are useless. The Sheikh governance particularly springs to mind, because in 2011, they tried to remove Muhammad Yunus from Grameen Bank.

Photo: Shahidul Alam, New York Times

I confess that I always sound like a teenage groupie whenever I talk about Grameen Bank and its founder Muhammad Yunus.

This is because this economics doctorate-holder from Vanderbilt University in the US, who works as a professor in Bangladesh's Chittagong University, has managed to do what most governments could not.

He pioneered micro-credit in Bangladesh - basically lending money to classes of people formerly underserved: the poor, women, illiterate, and unemployed people.

Grameen Bank is founded on the principle that loans are better than charity to interrupt poverty: they offer people the opportunity to take initiatives in business or agriculture, which provide earnings and enable them to pay off the debt.

The bank is founded on the belief that people have endless potential, and unleashing their creativity and initiative helps them end poverty.

I confess that I am incredulous when I read that most of the loans are repaid.

The. Loans. Are. Repaid.

And these are poor people!

Another thing that he did, that would never come under the purview of a modern, impersonal bank, is that he created social rules for those taking credit from his bank.

These include: educating the children, community hygiene, and even against accepting dowry!

Yes, I was very impressed.

But good things never last. Someone always shows up and spoils the fun. This was the Sheikh Hasina administration, who took advantage of "non-compliance" in Bangladeshi banking regulations to get rid of him.

I was in high school when Muhammad Yunus was bestowed the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his outstanding work. I remember reading about him.

Greed and jealousy of the incompetent Bangladeshi government, however, fomented within those 5 years to shut him out.

Muhammad Yunus and his bank could have done much more to improve the lives of the common Bangladeshi. Perhaps this would have reduced the number of refugees trying to flee Bangladesh.

Ironically, this is the story of two Nobel Prize winners.

One who was forced into silence, and one who remains silent of her own accord.

Malaysia’s Duty to the Rohingyas - New York Times

Friday, 29 May 2015

Seeking But Finding The Unexpected

A lot of them come to seek jobs in Malaysia. After all, Malaysia has a huge need for low-skilled labour.

Apparently only 30 to 40% of them were Rohingya; the rest of them were Bangladeshis seeking their fortune.

They never found it.

Unfortunately, many of them met their ends at transitory migrant camps at the border between Malaysia and Thailand. These were suspected human trafficking camps, about 139 of them.

My nationality - and the consequent opportunities that it brings - are an accident of birth and not of my choosing, but it does make me stop and wonder how misfortunate some groups of people can be.