Xenophobic to deny foreigners local rice, say groups

Alfian Z.M. Tahir

North South Initiative executive director Adrian Pereira says it is nonsensical to propose local rice to be sold only to Malaysians because the country relies on foreigners to work in the fields. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, September 24, 2023.

REFUGEES and human rights activists have lambasted Umno Youth chief Dr Akmal Saleh’s suggestion for local rice to be sold only to Malaysians to overcome the shortage.

Speaking to The Malaysian Insight, they shot down the proposal, describing it as nonsensical and downright xenophobic.

North South Initiative executive director Adrian Pereira said the proposal – although rejected by the government – was strange, adding that Akmal did not understand the concept of production.

“Who help produce the crops and work in the farms? They are all migrants, and if not for them, who would want to work in the field? Malaysians are not interested. We rely on foreign labour for our food,” he said.

“It is strange to not allow them to buy crops they help produce. The root cause of this shortage is our failure in the agricultural policy.

“Many civil society groups have suggested to the government to start organic farming where the yield is higher, but it doesn’t want to listen.”

Pereira said this was not the first time such racist statement was made.

“If we allow this narrative to be played, we will see more and more xenophobic statements in the future,” he said.

“Prior to this, foreigners were not allowed to take free bus rides. They are also not allowed to receive health subsidies.

“These are backward policies that needed to be addressed.”

Parti Sosialis Malaysia migrant desk chief Rani Rasiah also expressed her disbelief over Akmal’s statement, saying that it was against every good value a human can think of.

She said no one should be denied his or her basic right to food.

“It is unthinkable that someone can come up with such a suggestion. It is against every religion and every good value,” she said.

“Food is everyone’s basic need and no one can deny a person’s right to food. Everyone deserves to be treated equally.”

Last week, Akmal said local white rice, which is being subsidised by the government, should only be sold to Malaysians.

He said this could be a temporary measure to address the shortage of the commodity in the market.

“I urge the Agriculture and Food Security Ministry to come up with such a policy during this shortage, limiting the sale of local white rice only to Malaysians,” he said in a short video posted on Facebook.

“(The price of) local white rice is being subsidised by the government, therefore, in view of the shortage, Malaysians should be given priority over foreigners.

“We hope this request will be considered by the minister. We need to protect our people from outsiders. They (foreigners) can buy imported rice.”

Agriculture and Food Security Minister Mohamad Sabu, however, rejected the proposal, saying that the government did not plan to stop non-citizens from buying local rice despite the current shortage.

“Foreigners have to eat, too,” he said.

Mohamad said migrant workers also played a role in the country’s development and that the shortage of local rice was due to panic buying after the recent price hike of imported rice.

Myanmar Ethnic Organization representative James Bawi Thang Bik says it not right to deny migrants basic essentials as ‘we are all human beings and we deserve equal livelihood’. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, September 24, 2023.

Look for a solution

Myanmar Ethnic Organization representative James Bawi Thang Bik also disagreed with Akmal, saying that it was not right to limit the distribution of rice as it is an essential.

“Malaysia is a democracy and a multiracial country. Not just for the Malays, Chinese and Indians but also for every nationality who has found home here. You cannot deny us basic essentials as we are all human beings and we deserve equal livelihood,” he said.

“His statement is just not right. As a leader of a political party, he should look for a solution to the rice shortage.”

A refugee who refused to be named said such a suggestion should not come from a Muslim leader.

The Afghan who has lived in the country for nearly a decade reminded Akmal that Islam does not discriminate.

“From one Muslim to another, I think he is wrong. In Islam, we should not discriminate or oppress the poor, especially people who are seeking refugee in your home,” the 48-year-old said.

“But this does not reflect on Malaysians as a whole. I’ve lived here long enough to know many kind-hearted people. I’m not sure how he came to such a conclusion.”

The man said Akmal should feel blessed that he was born in a peaceful country.

“Coming from a war-torn country, I know how it feels not to have food or shelter,” he said.

“Imagine having to seek help from others and survive the war. He should be grateful he was born here. He should know better how to treat people in need.” – September 24, 2023.

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