Many Malaysians are struggling this year as we face the pandemic. While the government has initiatives to help locals, and there has been an enormous outpouring of the #RakyatJagaRakyat spirit where we help each other out – be it with money, housing, work and even getting mental health advice; migrant workers are often excluded from such relief and furthermore demonised as high-risk individuals.
The pandemic had at times stoked anti-migrant sentiments in Malaysia, especially after an Al-Jazeera documentary that was critical of the treatment of migrants here. This also prompted an online protest – #MigranJugaManusia (“Migrants are also human”) to trend.
According to Malaysiakini, in just eight months between March and October, 49 foreigners have died from suicide. This is all due to them facing financial, emotional and mental pressures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Police said that 46 of whom are from countries that export labourers and mostly live in dormitories or rumah kongsi (shared housing) given by their employers. These dorms are often described as small, dirty spaces and will house around eight people in a single room.
Statistics provided by Bukit Aman CID’s Prosecution and Legal Division showed that 14 of the deceased are from Myanmar, Bangladesh (nine), Nepal (nine), Indonesia (six), India (five), Pakistan (two) and Vietnam (one). There was also a British national, an Australian and an individual of unknown nationality among the deceased.
Of the 49 deceased, 46 had valid documents, while three were undocumented. Police also found that one of the deceased had mental health issues, while 48 others had financial or family problems. Most of them were between the ages of 26 and 45, while seven others were aged 19 to 25.
Meanwhile, Glorene Das, an executive director of Tenaganita – a Malaysian human rights NGO that advocates migrants and refugees, said,
“The number indicated by the police is worrying and troubling. Indeed, there might be cases which are not reported, as they may be undocumented”.
Glorene said society must learn from the SARS outbreak, and ensure that all preparations, responses and recovery efforts are grounded in human rights. She said financial and health planning in response to the pandemic has to be comprehensive, inclusive and take into account all people, including migrants and refugees.
“One of the guiding principles is that suicide is preventable, and that action should be taken now to protect people’s mental health,” Glorene added.
With that being said – if you are feeling depressed or suicidal, or know someone who is, please call Befrienders’ 24/7 hotline at 03-7956 8144 or 03-7956 8145.