Orang Asli sending more SOS every day, says NGO

Orang Asli say nearly all their tribesmen have been suffering to some extent under the movement control order. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: There has been a daily increase in requests for food from Orang Asli communities since the enforcement of the movement control order (MCO), according to the Centre for Orang Asli Concerns.

The activist group’s chief coordinator, Colin Nicholas, told FMT the MCO had caused suffering to nearly all Orang Asli tribesmen, “including the daily-wage worker, the subsistence farmer, the rubber and oil palm smallholder, the disabled, the elderly and the youth”.

He said his group had started a fundraising project to help them cope with the difficulties and had been involved in distributing food and other provisions to them.

“We are managing, but we are getting more and more requests each day.”

He acknowledged that the Orang Asli Development Department (Jakoa) has been channelling food to the tribal communities but said the rations might not have reached all families in need because some villages are not registered with the department.

He also noted initiatives by the Perak State Parks Corporation as well as fundraising drives organised by members of the public to assist the Orang Asli.

“Even so,” he said, “we are receiving requests from our networks for food and other supplies.”

He also said some who were living in villages on the forest fringes had resorted to entering the forests to fish and gather vegetables in order to feed their families.

“In some areas, even their fall-back crop, ubi kayu, has been ravaged by wild pigs,” he said.

As for those working in the towns, many were stranded there without any income, he added.

Orang Asli communities have been dealing with the Covid-19 threat with great wariness, with villagers setting up roadblocks and some going deep into the forests to avoid human contact.

Conditions set in the MCO and a directive from Jakoa have effectively banned the direct delivery of aid to them.

Nicholas said such restrictions were understandable “given the generally low resistance most Orang Asli have” to diseases from outside their communities.

He said aid distribution efforts had kept to the guidelines set by Jakoa, with money banked into accounts held by local coordinators known to his group.

These coordinators, who are themselves Orang Asli, would use the money to buy items needed by the communities and give a full account of their spending.

Nicholas said his group had worked with them before and they were trustworthy.

The first case of an Orang Asli Covid-19 infection was detected late last month. He is a three-year-old boy from a village outside Cameron Highlands.

Last week, the government imposed a lockdown in Sungai Lui in Hulu Langat, affecting two Orang Asli villages.