Burmese Tycoons to Help Compatriots in Malaysia

By Zarni Mann 11 June 2013

Burmese tycoons at the helm of leading businesses in the country are pledging to help bring back Burmese nationals wishing to return to their homeland in the wake of violence in Malaysia targeting Burmese people there.

Aung Ko Win, chairman of Kanbawza Bank, has donated US$50,000 to help Burmese migrant workers who are employed in Malaysia. He is also planning to cooperate with Myanmar Airways International (MAI) to cut airfares by 50 percent for one month for migrant workers in Malaysia seeking a return to Burma.

“The donation is not for popularity. This is just our chairman wanting to show solidarity with his fellow Burmese people who are living in fear in Malaysia,” said Zaw Lin Htut, senior general manager at Kanbawza Bank.

He said the Kanbawza chief was willing to cooperate with the Burmese Embassy in Malaysia to provide air transportation free of charge as well.

Violence targeting Burmese nationals in Malaysia began May 30, when a Burmese man there was beheaded by unknown assailants. Other Burmese citizens have since come under attack, with the violence being linked to communal violence between Buddhists and minority Muslims in Burma over the last year. Malaysia’s population is majority-Muslim.

According to a social group helping Burmese migrant workers in Malaysia, the incidents have left at least six dead and 10 injured. As of Tuesday, however, Malaysian authorities have yet to confirm any official death toll.

The Ayeyarwady Foundation, founded by the managing director of the Max Myanmar Group, Zaw Zaw, has donated $20,000 to support the Kepong Free Funeral Service, which provides funerals free of charge to Burmese migrant workers.

According to the foundation’s media relations officer, representatives of the group are in talks with government officials and plan to travel to Malaysia in person to provide support to the Burmese migrant population there. The group is also planning to donate 2,000 airline tickets to people who want to come back to the country.

The Htoo Foundation, established by another famous Burmese tycoon, Tay Za, also announced on its Facebook page that it will donate $100,000 to help those beleaguered Burmese in Malaysia wishing to return to their home country.

Air Bagan, which is also owned by Tay Za, has promised to arrange flights for citizens wishing to return to Burma, and also pledged to provide job opportunities to returning nationals.

Despite the business community’s charitable gestures, migrant workers without legal documents may not be able to benefit from the offers.

According to Burmese migrant workers in Malaysia, many migrant workers are seeking a means of returning to Burma, but worry that they will be unable to do so without the necessary legal papers to travel.

“We are happy to hear that people like them are willing to help us,” said Maung Ko, who lives in Malaysia’s Selangor State. “There are many people who want to go back home, but the problem is they are here without legal documents and are unable to fly back home.”

Thousands of Burmese migrant workers are employed in Malaysia’s factories, and on rubber and oil palm plantations in the fellow Asean nation. Most of them travel to Malaysia via the Thai-Burma border and have no legal documents, including passports or work permits.

Migrant workers on Tuesday explained that most of those employed in Malaysia are required to reimburse their employer at least 1,000 Malaysian ringgits ($320) if they go home before having fulfilled their contract.

“Even though they have free tickets to fly, they are worried about the reimbursement because they do not have enough money to pay. If there’s no one to help, it seems they have to let the police arrest them and let the police send them back to the border,” Maung Ko said.

Others have overstayed their work permits, an immigration violation that presents its own legal challenges.

“We want to go back as we are overstaying here and have no security. But we need to have a Certificate of Identification, which is issued by the Burmese Embassy in Kuala Lumpur. We hope somebody can help us to leave Malaysia,” said another Burmese worker who lives in the Selayang area, about 10 km northwest of Kuala Lumpur.

Meanwhile, Hmuu Zaw, an officer from the Burmese President’s Office, posted on his Facebook that a special delegation led by Deputy Foreign Minister Zin Yaw had departed for Malaysia on Monday evening.

Hmuu Zaw said in his post that the delegation would evaluate the situation in Malaysia and report back to the president in order to determine concrete steps the administration can take to assist Burmese nationals living in Malaysia.

Concerned for the wellbeing of family and friends in Malaysia, some Burmese living in Burma slammed the government’s response to the recent violence, saying its actions came too late.

“It is good to hear the tycoons and the government trying to help them, but it is a bit late. If the government had cooperated with the Malaysian government to help its citizen immediately, the problem will not have spiraled so much,” said Ashin Issariya, a leading monks of the anti-government uprising in September 2007.

“We worry for our fellow monks who are doing missionary [work] in Penang and other areas. Some Buddhist monks from Penang said that they have to live with caution because they received threatening phone calls from unknown people,” he added.

On Facebook, many Burmese people globally have changed their profile pictures to an image of solid black, while some have posted prayers or sentiments of solidarity for victims of the violence in Malaysia. Others have urged an end to the religious violence.

Burmese beauty queen Nang Khin Zay Yar was among those expressing solidarity with the victims and urging assistance for compatriots living in Malaysia.

Malaysian police have reportedly cited the communal violence between Buddhists and minority Muslims in Burma as the root of the recent violence against Burmese migrants.

Following the incidents in Malaysia, more than 900 Burmese, mainly from the Sentul, Cheras, Brickfields and Dang Wangi areas, were arrested last week in a sweep that Malaysian police said was intended to prevent further bloodshed.