Concern over survival of refugees, migrants who can’t earn daily wage

Refugees and migrants are afraid to go to work because of the Covid-19 movement control order. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: Volunteers working with migrant and refugee communities in the Klang Valley have voiced their concern over the foreigners’ ability to survive the two-week movement control order (MCO) to stop the spread of Covid-19.

Hasnah Hussein, who is a volunteer community mobiliser with Tenaganita, said many of the Chin, Kachin, Rohingya migrant workers and refugees she works with are odd-job workers who earn a daily wage.

Their jobs include general work at the Selayang market and restaurants, and as cleaners.

“They are very much affected. Because of the MCO, they cannot go out to work and are more afraid now after the authorities warned of action against those defying the order.” Hasnah said.

Those working in construction, she said, are less at risk because they stay in kongsis (living quarters) on-site where access was restricted. As such, these workers can continue to do work.

At the moment, Hasnah said, the migrant communities she works with, numbering some 1,000 people, are helping each other by sharing whatever food they have.

“Some NGOs are raising funds for refugee communities so they can donate food to them. The challenge now is getting enough donations.

“So far, from what we know, no food has been delivered and these deliveries are urgent because very few of the migrants and refugees have savings.

“Their life is ‘kais pagi makan pagi, kais petang makan petang’,” she said, referring to the Malay idiom of earning enough only to survive.

Hasnah said she is worried that without their daily wages, the refugees and migrants may only be able to survive for five days.

The silver lining, she said, is that they are very aware of Covid-19.

“Before the MCO, we distributed pamphlets which had been translated into their languages, and we also put this on social media. They know the symptoms,” she said.

She said they were informed that the authorities would not charge the foreigners for medical treatment during the MCO nor will they face arrest.

Hasnah said they still have no access to face masks and sanitisers, which are costly, but the bigger concern now is their livelihood.

Another volunteer community mobiliser, Nasrikah, who works with the Indonesian migrant community, said she is also worried about the daily wage earners, some of whom are forced to borrow from friends and employers.

In some sectors like manufacturing, she said, some workers have been given two weeks’ paid leave.

“But for domestic workers, they won’t get overtime and with their employers also at home the whole day, they may not get a chance to rest,” she said.

Nasrikah said she has informed the members of the community to reach out to them if they need food or help.

“We do have sanitisers and masks, but it is difficult to distribute them now because of the MCO,” she said.

She said one problem now is that undocumented workers are scared to seek medical treatment because they are afraid of being caught by enforcement authorities.

“We are telling them not to be afraid, and we try to assist them. My concern is their reluctance to reach out if they are not feeling well.”

Meanwhile, North-South Initiative director Adrian Pereira said he hopes the government puts in place a moratorium on any immigration operations until the Covid-19 threat is gone.

“For now, the authorities need to assure foreign workers and refugees that they will be safe if they need to get medical treatment,” he said.

Pereira also said the government needs to monitor compliance with the MCO and labour laws by companies, especially where issues like salaries are concerned.