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It was three years since I was here on this border town. The day I left, the police were doing a raid for illegal immigrants.

Indian, Bangladeshi and Indonesian workers of the cafes in the area scattered like chicken in a coop invaded by a fox.

“I remember that,” said Dave,  a Chinese Malaysian soup seller. “It doesn’t happen so much. The police are being paid off regularly.” He said those who weren’t  paying off the police got busted. “And those who play the game  are notified of the immigration busts. This is Malaysia.”

And it could be Indonesia too.

He says most of the staff at the food halls on Maldrum street are Indonesian. “They are illegal. They work for  a month until their visa expires, and return a few days later on another one month visa.” 

I met one Indonesian lady the other day at the ferry terminal who was being grilled by an immigration officer. “You were here only three days ago. I’ll let you in this last time, but I really hope you aren’t working illegally.”

“I’m here visiting family,” said the Indonesian who got stamped in immediately.

It was really that easy.

Dave says it’s hard for the Indonesians  to get work permits. “Most places just can’t afford to pay for their work permit or even give them a contract for two years.”

The big fuss about 1.4 million Bangladeshi’s getting work permits to work in Malaysia is just a sham, said Dave. “They are underpaid and never take breaks for prayers. They’ll work in all kinds of conditions and you won’t hear so much as a whimper from them.”

He said all it takes is for a jealous Malay to photoshop a salary slip of a migrant worker, and make it look like they are being paid double to the Malays to fuel xenophobia. “It’s just not going to happen. The Bangladeshi’s are paid half the average salary and live in crowded on site accommodation.” He thinks maybe the government  is trying to stir some nationalism, to distract some attention on its own performance.

Lastly, he says  migrant workers don’t rape Malays. “That’s just another agent provocateur trying to stir up the  shit pot. The  Malays need an enemy and today it just happens to be the Bangladeshi. The fact that they are Muslim makes this charade even more farcical.”

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