Stem the tide of migration overseas


THE Deputy Foreign Minister Senator A Kohilan Pillay announced in the Dewan Rakyat on November 30 that the number of Malaysian citizens who had migrated overseas from March 2008 to August the same year was 304,358. He said the figure from the same period in 2007 was 139,696.

It is quite normal for citizens of various countries to migrate elsewhere for various reasons. But the large numbers of Malaysians who have chosen to just uproot themselves and move to live and die in another country is really quite shocking.

Extrapolate these numbers to a long period of a few decades, and we can then begin to grasp the extent of this outward exodus of our citizens to countries like Australia, New Zealand, UK, USA, and Canada!

These countries have very stringent standards for accepting applicants for permanent residency or citizenship from foreigners.

They will welcome the best educated, the most qualified professionally, and the most wealthy applicants only.

This sort of massive waves of migration from Malaysia to greener pasture overseas is nothing less than a haemorrhagic brain drain that sucks away our value-added human resource so much needed in our national economic development!

We should not be so surprised at this latest revelation though. Is there any one among us who does not know of more than a few relatives and friends who had just packed up and left for another country?

By now, we should also be familiar with the reasons why they make that kind of lifechanging decisions.

The business and professional opportunities in those developed economies are brighter and better than
those in Malaysia, which is still very much a struggling developing country. They get paid more, and they have much more space to develop their professional skills.

It is often said that while water always flows downward, human beings always climb upward. When people seek better prospects in life overseas, it is hard for us to find the heart to scold them for deserting their motherland.

We also know instinctively that they do not migrate overseas entirely for selfish motive. After all, such a major move would severe them from everything familiar and dear, and they would have to make a great deal of effort to adjust to their new social and cultural environment. Perhaps, they will never feel home truly in their new adopted home. Many of my Sarawak friends who have migrated overseas have returned once in a long while to tell me how they miss their friends and the food here in the land of their birth.

They had migrated, they told me, because they want to give their children affordable world-class education in English.

Indeed, in those countries that are the most popular destinations of Malaysian migrants such as Australia, New Zealand, UK, USA, and Canada, there are thousands of institutions of higher learning with a long distinguished history and international reputation for academic excellence.

Given the high wages for professionals there, university education for their children is still affordable. There are also all kinds of loans, grants, scholarships for deserving and needy students.

In sharp contrast, it is hard to get into our local universities, especially if you are not Bumiputera. Besides, most courses in Malaysia are conducted in Bahasa Malaysia, and a graduate from a Malaysian university has very little job prospect on the international market place.

Those parents who can afford to migrate overseas have also never failed to remind me how the academic standards among our Malaysian universities have dropped tangentially, and they are now ranked at the bottom of the rungs in the world ranking of institutions of higher learning.

But most of all, they would tell me how in overseas they work on a level playing field. You get the odd racists and bigots among the local Caucasian population, but generally those developed countries operate on a system of meritocracy. You will be rewarded for your talents, and never judged according to the colour of your skin or the creed of your belief. In fact, we do not have far to look to see greener pasture. My friend’s daughter had just been given a full scholarship by the Singapore government to study medicine in the National University of Singapore there. Though she scored top marks in her exam, she was not accepted into any medical faculty in Malaysia.

She would probably have to work for a few years for the Singapore government upon her graduation as a doctor, but then she would be free to apply to be a permanent resident or a citizen of the island republic, to enjoy the high wages and the high standard of living in her adopted country. I sigh with sadness every time I hear a story like this.

It is only natural that everyone loves the land to which he is born. The sort of emotional bond that one has to one’s homeland is one of the most powerful emotions nascent to the human soul.

The sort of primordial psychological love for one’s homeland can only be compared metaphorically to the intimate link between a mother and her child. That is why we call our homeland our ‘motherland’!

To immigrate to another country in mid adult life is a traumatic experience; for some, it would feel like the castration of one’s own soul. One’s personal identity would be torn asunder. One does not do it without a great deal of hurt, disillusionment, disappointment, and alienation.

The mass exodus of millions of Malaysians who pack up and go to become citizens of another country then is an indication that many citizens born and bred in this country have felt excluded from the mainstream way of life.

However much they love their homeland, they feel unwanted, unneeded, and unloved in return.

By leaving, they have voted politically with their feet against a political project which offers no future for them. They have given up that most precious sentiment a citizen can have for his country: faith.

It is all too easy to just wish them good riddance. It is also too simplistic just to blame them for being selfish, and for not making sacrifice for their country and their fellowmen. Everybody is ready to make some sacrifice for their country, as long as they deem it worthwhile. Making sacrifice does work both ways.

Eventually, there is no escaping from this sobering and frightening fact that a massive number of very qualified Malaysians have turned their back on our beloved country.

Apart from the huge loss of valuable human resource, there is the political question: what went wrong?

While we have to admit that at a certain stage in the early history of our experimentation with nationhood, a certain amount of special assistance has to be given to the disadvantaged ethnic communities in our nation.

Unfortunately, racial politics — especially in West Malaysia — has been so deeply etched in our national soul, that wounds have been inflicted so deep into our national life, that the chasm of racial division among Malaysians have become almost institutionalised.

Even nowadays, the media in West Malaysia is saturated with public narratives that are heavily tinged with racial sentiments. Just because some DAP people have chosen the imprudent move of stepping on the pictures of three political defectors in Perak, the editorial of a Malay newspaper immediately accused Chinese of stepping on the Malays in our country.

As long as the country’s politics continue to revolve around the hurtful issues of race and religion, national unity and the dream of a One Malaysia will forever remain as a mirage. Hundreds of thousands of very educated, highly skilled and much needed Malaysians will continue to migrate overseas.

What we need in Malaysia is an honest reappraisal of our political culture. Our politicians will have to speak a more inclusive language that will appeal to our sense of universal justice irrespective of race and religion.

First of all, we the people of Malaysia have to be determined to make this change in out political outlook. This is a parliamentary democracy, and politicians will have to respond to the demands of the voters.

First, we must reject racist sentiment within ourselves. Fortunately in Sarawak, this is not that hard to do.

(The writer can be reached at [email protected])