Manila joins protest to KL over illegals

Officials say deported workers treated appallingly; meanwhile, Indonesian lawmakers want ambassador recalled.

MALAYSIA’S spat with its neighbours over the deportation of illegal workers widened yesterday with its ambassador in Manila summoned to receive a protest note, and legislators in Jakarta and Riau calling for a stiff response – including the recall of Indonesia’s envoy.

Angered by television images of Filipinos crammed on vessels and shipped home – and the reported deaths of infants in the process – Foreign Secretary Blas Ople told Ambassador Taufik Mohamed Noor that Manila was shocked and concerned about the ‘appalling conditions’ those deported faced.

He said that Manila did not expect ‘Hilton-standard treatment’ for them, but reminded the envoy that Malaysian officials had assured him last week that the Filipinos would be treated well.

Earlier in the day, Senate Foreign Relations committee chairman Manuel Villar demanded that the Philippine government lodge a diplomatic protest with Malaysia over its treatment of Filipinos.

Manila’s protest was compounded by continued criticism from Indonesia, where politicians and legislators made their anger known.

They called for the government to stop any more workers from going to Malaysia, asked that the Indonesian ambassador to Kuala Lumpur be recalled, and said Malaysia had to retract an advisory issued to its citizens on Monday not to travel to Indonesia unless it was necessary.

But at the official level, Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister Hassan Wirajuda said there was no cause for the Malaysian government to worry about the safety of its citizens visiting Indonesia.

He declined to comment further on the advisory issued by his counterpart, Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar, but said he was confident that Malaysians would be able to travel anywhere in Indonesia without fear of being attacked by vengeful Indonesians.

On the question of the deportation of illegals – and the tougher punishment, including caning, which Malaysia has now instituted against over-stayers – he said such matters could be handled in a cooperative manner by the two governments. Therefore, he hoped that the government, legislators and citizens on both sides would exercise restraint and not be swayed by their emotions.

‘The root cause of the problem – illegal workers – is being handled by both countries. In fact, most of these illegals have already been deported without any problem and now that we are at the tail-end, we don’t want to see any new problems arising for the remaining few,’ he said.

But legislators in Riau reacted angrily and called for Indonesia’s ambassador to Malaysia, Dr Hadi Wayarabu Al Hadar, to be recalled.

Separately, a United Development Party legislator said that the government should just pull out all Indonesian workers.

‘Why should we be giving them our workers to build their airport, office buildings and shopping malls? They have benefited a lot from our workers being there,’ he said.

But Jakarta officials played down the spat, indicating that they did not want relations to deteriorate any further, given concerns that Indonesians might be barred from working in Malaysia indefinitely.

A senior Indonesian diplomat said ministers from both sides were working to address the labour problem and would come up with a solution over the next few weeks.

Amid the sound and fury, Malaysia’s leaders have, on the whole, been restrained in their reaction.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said that Kuala Lumpur would not protest the burning of the Malaysian flag on Monday by demonstrators, as he recognised that it was not undertaken or sanctioned by the Indonesian government.

But Datuk Seri Syed Hamid said he expected Jakarta to ensure the safety of Malaysians in the country and that there would be no repeat of the flag-burning incident.

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