Saturday, May 26, 2007

The "War" on Migrants

What if the US dressed a corps of civilians in uniforms and paid them $25 for each illegal immigrant they rounded up? Would it work? I bet more than just a handful of Americans would be up for the 'challenge' of chasing down illegal 'critters'.

And if they needed to see such a program in action they could take a look at the Malaysian model. It is called Ikatan Relawan Rakyat (RELA), which means People’s Volunteer Corps.

This "volunteer force" of government sanctioned
'do-gooders' number about 500 thousand in a country of 27 million citizens.

The Malaysian government has armed and empowered RELA to "search, seize and arrest without warrant or explanation" according to a recent news report in Al-Jazeera.

As you can well imagine, the state-paid incentive of $25 per rounded head of illegal meat has lead to an overzealous frenzy of human rights abuses (and corruption). Anyone suspected of being an illegal in a population of about 2.5 million foreign workers is fair gain for RELA.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), RELA "brutalize inhabitants, extort money, and confiscate cell phones, clothing, jewelry, and household goods, before handcuffing migrants and transporting them to detention camps for 'illegal immigrants'."

The Malaysian government is adamant that they are not advocating an anti-immigrant stance or advancing a racist and xenephobic agenda by funding and supporting what is essentially an official vigilante force. RELA is said to help the government curb the movement of illegals who are fingered to be responsible for escalating crime. Crime, in this age of terror alerts, is claimed to be a great security threat for the Malaysian nation-state. The migrant worker as insurgent, terrorist, cannot be too far from this imaging.

Many ordinary Malaysians also support this clamping down on illegals because they believe their jobs are being stolen.

Now doesn't all this sh*t sound familiar? Crime and jobs. I've heard Black South Africans complain that Zimbabweans (Mozambicans too) are responsible for crime and also'steal' their jobs. I've also heard white South Africans agree that African illegals are stealing jobs from Black South Africans. Jobs which were stolen from white South Africans by Affirmative Action ... but that is another story ... though a familiar whiney wank.

What is 'needed' in nationalist terms, of course, is a "war" of containment, expulsion, and exclusion: send those damn Zimbabweans back to Mugabe or lock 'em up!Geez Broer. Where is the humanity in all of this? See this HRW report for more information.

As for the US, and Britain or France for that matter, just copy and paste the sentiment and argument above. This includes all the racist suppositions that support arguments about the nation-state and security, organic belonging, and exclusion.

The irony of the collective paranoia about illegals and the sanctity/purity/security of the nation-state is that illegal workers are a recognized boon to the economy. A boon premised on underpayment and subjugation of human and worker rights. And, even while the leaders and their anti-immigrant/pro-nationalist rhetoric villify migrants, the profits and developmental benefits trickle upward to the state. For this reason, the likes of RELA is just a pacifying smokescreen. A smokescreen that manipulates deep-seated prejudices about race, ethnicity, gender, religion, geographical origin, among others.

The truth is that Malysia's economic prosperity cannot be delinked from the migrant workers, both legal and illegal, from Indonesia, Myanmar, India, Bangladesh and elsewhere. These workers toil on plantations and constructions sites in menial work that most Malaysians refuse while at the same time complaining that migrants are stealing their jobs.

It is imperative that further international pressure be brought on Malaysia to disband RELA immediately.


::MENNO:: said...

Hi Ridwan,

Just read your post 'The "War" on migrants'. I'd never heard of the RELA, but it's a total disgrace for humanity. It immediately reminds me of the NSB, the Nationaal-Socialistische Beweging, they were dutch nazi collaborators during WWII who tipped off the nazis on places where Jews were hiding in the Netherlands so the nazis could arrest the Jews and deport them to their concentration camps. It's a terrifying resemblance.

Furthermore this hypocrite policy is exactly the same as in for example the US with the millions of Latin American illegal migrants, but also in Europe; there are hundreds of African migrants trying to reach the shores of particularly Italy and Spain, with the most well-known example of the Canary Islands. On tiny and mostly not seaworthy ships they take their chances, but many of them don't even reach Europe and drown or die of dehydration. Those who make it are send back to Africa or disappear in 'illegaliteit' as we call it in Dutch. Well, you probably know the stories. At the same time these illegal migrants are indispensable in the European and the American economies. They are an essential part of the workforce in the so-called developed countries. The governments don't want them, but actually need them. 'Fort Europe' is closing it's gates. But I'm sure they'll leave some obscure side-entry open. And it's all at the cost of an ernormous human tragedy. Very sad.

Hope you're doing fine Ridwan! Are you back in Portland?

Best wishes,

Ridwan Laher said...

Hello Menno!!!!

I was just thinking of you this morning. I was hoping you are well. Will drop you an email later today. It is Memorial Day here in the US. Yes, I'm visiting Portland for a few.

Next week I'm off to Mexico. Can't wait.

Thanks for your insightful comments. Yor are right. It is an absolute shame.

I have seen footage of folks walking across the Sahara desert in an effort to make it to Europe.

In southern Africa the story is similar. Folks are entering the country looking for work. I have read that there may be 5 million so called "illegals" in South Africa.

I don't doubt this number and it may even be conservative.

I expect that the flow of migrants will continue to grow. People will go anywhere they can earn a living.

My situation is not very different really. I would rather live/work in South Africa but the market is too small/restrictive to be absolutely inclusive.

So, I never confuse opportunity with necessity.

OK, so laat my weet hoe dit gaan met jou. Ek hoop alles is goed. Kom kuier hier gou.

Totsiens broer,