Malaysian illegals or over-stayers in UK were not whipped like they have done on other citizens

Malaysian illegals or over-stayers in UK were not whipped

like they have done on other citizens

 

The mood was one of caution at the first workshop held to encourage Malaysian overstayers in the UK to return home.

THE hastily converted meeting room looked sparse but functional. Plonked in front was the speaker’s table with two chairs staring at four rows of public seats.

There were no speakers or microphones. The slide presentation had to be scrapped at the last minute as someone had passed the wrong cable to one of the speakers.

But the talk would proceed, minus the power point presentation.

At first glance, this looked like just another public meeting in the Charing Cross Library on the edge of London’s Chinatown.

One by one, the participants trickled in – some mums cradling babies, others with kids tagging along, and a few elderly couples.

A middle-aged woman was overhead muttering “hum cheng” (a trap in Cantonese) while a man remarked in typical Penang Hokkien “Ai liak lang bo?” (Will they detain anyone?)

The mood was one of caution. Several were seen exchanging furtive glances every few moments, half expecting the police to come charging in any minute.

However, there were also some who appeared pretty relaxed. One took the opportunity to bottle-feed her baby while another gave her restless child a bun.

Of course, this was no illegal gathering. Neither was it an unauthorised meeting by a shady group with sinister motives.

Uneasy silence

Far from being a run-of-the-mill workshop, this was an extraordinary gathering of a motley bunch of 20-odd Malaysians who hailed from all over Britain.

An unusual pow-wow of sorts, it was probably the first workshop specifically for Malay sians whose visas had expired, were staying illegally in Britain or were asylum seekers.

Organised jointly by London’s Chinese Information and Advice Centre (CIAC) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), it was aimed at addressing issues faced by Malaysian overstayers.

The session could not have come at a better time, given a recent report that about 30,000 Malaysians are overstaying in Britain as well as the impending expiration of the UK’s six-month visa evaluation period on the country’s nationals.

Organising a workshop is one thing, though. But to get participants – particularly if they are illegal workers – is something else. For that reason, the public library was the ideal venue. Holding it at the Malaysian High Commission or IOM office would have been disastrous simply because no one would turn up.

But when CIAC’s Malaysian chairman Edmond Yeo introduced the first speaker – the High Commission’s immigration attaché Zahari Abdul Aziz – an uneasy silence fell over the room. At that point, some were probably wondering whether they would be “shopped” by the Malaysian Government or referred to the British Home Office.

Exposing themselves

But it turned out that Zahari was more than friendly. He went out of his way to put them at ease and gave an assurance that they would not be arrested and thrown into prison.

Like a teacher addressing his students on the first day of school, he started by wishing them “Selamat pagi” (Good morning in Bahasa Malaysia) and asking whether they could understand him.

Boleh (can),” came the enthusiastic reply as the audience warmed up to his disarming smile and friendly disposition.

Zahari had the group in stitches when he said he would be talking in Bahasa Malaysia as “Nanti saya cakap orang putih, saya sendiri pun tak faham!” (If I were to speak in English, I myself would not understand!)

On a more serious note, he urged them to spread the message to their family members, friends and colleagues that they could apply for emergency travel documents to return to Malaysia.

“Do not be afraid to see me. We won’t prosecute you or impound your expired passports,” he said, adding that the temporary passport costing £10 (RM52) would be issued the same day.

However, he said, they could not apply for a new passport within two years. In cases of medical or exceptional reasons, they can appeal to the Immigration headquarters for a reprieve, he added.

Zahari also said that those who had babies with their non-Malaysian partners in the UK could return home with the temporary passports to apply for Malaysian birth certificates.

“Otherwise, their babies cannot obtain Malaysian citizenship as, being illegals, their marriages are not legalised in the UK,” he said.

Yeo described the attendance as fairly good for the first such meeting as many were apprehensive about “exposing themselves”.

“But we managed to reach out to the Malay sian overstayers and gain their confidence to come forward,” he said, adding that they planned to hold another workshop early next year.

Brothers Leong Kheng Onn and Kin Chen were among those who attended the workshop to gather information for their fellow countrymen who had overstayed for up to 10 years.

“I’ve received calls from nearly 30 friends who asked me for assistance as they were afraid to turn up,” said Kheng Onn, who runs the Kerana Mu Malaysian restaurant in Windsor and a fleet of mobile kitchens.

With Zahari virtually opening his doors to Malaysian overstayers in Britain, there’s more reason for them to contact him (www.jimlon don.net), the CIAC (www.ciac.co.uk) or IOM (www.iomlondon.org) for assistance to go home.

Choi Tuck Wo is Editor, European Union Bureau, based in London

 

An unusual pow-wow, Star Online, EUROFILE

By CHOI TUCK WO

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