The Borneo Post
When in Rome …
DO as the Romans do.
This is a manner of speaking – the way one would expect the refugees or new migrants to behave, once they are accepted into another country.
One expects them to be thankful for finding security in a new country. It is expected of them to abide by the laws of that new country and to respect the norms and mores of the original inhabitants, or those who have settled down there prior to their arrival.
You would be surprised that many of them are not happy to be free. I ‘discovered’ this irony or lack of appreciation and understanding on the part of many refugees or asylum seekers, who ended up as new settlers in a new country – Australia and Malaysia – thanks to my association with many people in the non-governmental organisations over many years.
The social workers avoid highlighting the grievances of this kind for fear the majority of them would be influenced and the whole lot would rebel. The members of mass media often interview the unhappy and not the happy. That’s part of the trouble.
However, the following account is basically my personal observation and interpretations of things, not an empirical study; more like stereotyping, if you like.
Over the years, my involvement with nongovernmental organisations from a number of countries as well as interactions with members of NGOs in Peninsular Malaysia (working with people in NGOs helping the refugees and helping the authorities in cases of human trafficking) has taught me to look at many dimensions of the human character.
Why do people from the wartorn countries in the Middle East of Arabic culture want to go to Europe with western values? Won’t it be better for them to go to the other Arab countries?
We all have read or seen on the TV screen the rescuing of people in trouble trying to get to Europe on rickety boats across the Mediterranean Sea from countries in Africa and Middle East.
We have seen how they are treated by the rescuers – humane and civilised. Are there other motives?
We have seen how the Mexicans who have been trying to get to America on foot have been treated knowing that they would be up against the wall, literally. Yet they insist on going to America at all costs. But once in the country, many are not happy with the conditions of life there. They think it is the duty of the Americans to give them jobs on arrival, as if the Americans were duty bound to help solve their problems which their own country cannot solve.
When I saw a photo of Juarez, one of the many crossing points for migrants from Mexico to USA, my memories flooded back. In March 1971, I spent a few days in El Paso and one day I was invited by my host to visit Juarez by car over the bridge on the Rio Grande. A beautiful place. I can imagine the hazards of crossing the river for women and children from Juarez to El Paso. Forty years ago, there was no wall, no barriers separating the two neighbouring countries.
About 15 years later, in another part of the world, hundreds of people from South Vietnam got on rickety boats on the vast ocean to escape political reprisals from the Vietcong, hoping to find refuge in Australia. Many of them died on the way to their destination. I met some survivors in Brisbane a couple of years ago and was told of the ordeal they had had to go through for weeks without sufficient food or water. Many were happy to be away from home country and persecution but a few were complaining of difficulty of finding jobs where English is required for communication. They speak French only.
Migration from one country to Australia continued in recent years, either for fear of political persecution or for economic reason. They were not happy to be relocated to Nauru Islands. The people sent to the processing centre at Nauru were bitter about the living conditions and blamed Australia for not taking them into the country straight away. Some had mental problems while waiting for time to be placed in Australia as if Australia is duty bound to accept everybody.
Unfortunately for the country, a number of former asylum seekers from the Middle East having been accepted by the country had gone to Syria and Iraq, trained and fought alongside Daesh and come back to preach the values alien to the ordinary Australians. I met with an editor of a newspaper, who told me that the generosity of the Australian community was not appreciated at all by some of the new settlers. Many among the new citizens refused to adapt to their new surroundings. Their loyalty was elsewhere, an attitude the opposite of the Malay concept of loyalty “Di mana bumi dipijak, disitu langit di junjong.”
How ungrateful of them, to say the least!
A friend from Europe told me that many of the immigrants, political and economic, behave as if they owned the place. Many of the refugees or asylum seekers are from the former German or French or Belgium colonies; they demanded that they be treated like the natives used to treat the former colonial masters. Two different situations, two different times. How does one explain this kind of attitude?
Although Malaysia is not bound to accept asylum seekers as refugees, there are still many foreigners in the country. They dominate small trading. Go to Chow Kit Road in KL and you know what I mean. Go to Serian, Betong, or Saratok on a Sunday. Whom do you see doing small business there? Foreign traders. Go to Serikin …
When the locals sound like being xenophobic, you would discover as I did if you looked closely at the behaviour of some of the new settlers in your midst.
When many young people in Hong Kong complain about the mainland Chinese, you would understand why they do so, if you would take the trouble to understand how they evaluate democracy versus communism. When the Taiwanese would not be part of China you would understand why.
By the same token, you would appreciate the concern of those Natives in Sarawak who have lost their customary rights over land to a company owned by foreigners. The foreign companies resort to the excuse that they got the land from your government. Who are you to complain? The government owned the land and from that owner that they got the land from. End of argument, they think.
You might notice that I am talking about the behaviour of some people in a given situation – refugees seeking asylum fighting or Daesh fighters, foreign traders and foreign investors competing in local business. It’s the small number among these who damage the good name of the majority.
The question is what do the authorities do with the naughty few? During the colonial times in Sarawak, these would be expelled to a foreign country and were not allowed back, their citizenship stripped.