I woke up and stepped out of my room in my underwear just before the burglar had cut through the last bar over the window with bolt cutters and entered the house.
I’d arrived in the country earlier that day. Welcome to Malaysia.
I think the thug was more surprised than me when the light went on and I yelled out a simple, “Hey!” at the sight of him. The nice guest house he had scoped out was now occupied with a foreigner. Actually, I know he was quite surprised, because in near perfect English he used part of Bruce Willis’ famous tagline from Die Hard on me, then ran.
It could’ve been bad. I know that. What would he have done when he came into my room and I was sleeping?
To be completely frank though, the situation didn’t rattle me much. Nothing really happened, except for a bit of property damage, and I had friends nearby who could help me. I also had that North American confidence to call the police and expect assistance.
The experience really opened my eyes, though, to what it could be like for a non-Western foreigner facing a troubling situation, say a migrant or a refugee to Malaysia.
Like me, many don’t speak Malaysia’s national language (Bahasa) or my own, English. But I had a passport, permission to be in the country, and have lived all my life taking for granted the inherent rights and freedoms that have belonged to me since birth.
So when I called the police and was twice hung up on by the operator, I didn’t give up. The third time someone who spoke my native tongue took the call. I explained the situation and they asked me to come to the station, which was miles away.
Putting all Canadian politeness aside (I was jetl agged, remember) I scoffed at this and told them to come to me saying something like, “I don’t know where your station is and there has been an attempted robbery. Come right now.”
I wanted to know that I’d be safe and that justice would be pursued. They came.
But if you were a migrant worker, say from Bangladesh or Vietnam, working in Malaysia, it’s highly likely that one of the first things your employer did when you arrived at the airport was to take your passport and documentation into their possession.
Now imagine if you’ve been wronged in any way by a thug like the one who almost got to me, and you need help from the police, but don’t speak the language, don’t have documentation, and don’t have a ride to the station… you might never even consider asking for the help that you need.
This middle-of-the-night, boxer-briefed home intrusion gave me some unique insight into the basic level of vulnerability any foreigner in Malaysia without their documents would have if they need help from authorities. As Hope In Action describes, there’s lots or reasons foreigners become undocumented in Malaysia, and lots of ways that vulnerability is exploited.
If you think standing in your gonch in front of a burglar in the middle of the night under a fluorescent light is vulnerable, try being a legal migrant in Malaysia without access to your own travel documents.
About Hope In Action
Shocking stories of human rights abuses in South East Asia have now been heard around the world. Hope in Action gives an up-close look at the lives of migrants and refugees as they come to Malaysia. It portrays an honest and eye-opening account of their experiences.
Through stories, photographs, reflections and extensive research, Hope in Action shines a light on what many migrant workers and refugees currently endure in Malaysia. It will refresh compassion for people who are in desperate situations and equip readers to help those in need.
Join the thousands of readers throughout Malaysia and around the world who are compelled to become true hope in action!
Want to order print copies for your study group, youth group, book club or church? Order print copies here.
Read some of Andrew’s other HIA blog posts:
Read Andrew Kooman’s guest post for IJM Canada in their Celebrating Canada’s 150 series. He writes about Freedom, Faith and Fatherhood.
You’ve packed your bags. Double checked you have your sunscreen. You’re ready to go out the door.
And then you realize, “Oh my gosh, I almost stepped out of the door for my amazing weekend away slash summer holiday slash stay-cation slash doctor’s appointment without the book I bought on AndrewKooman.com at an amazing price!”
Finding a way into these pressing global issues can take some coaxing. Requires an opening. And first and foremost we need to clear the hurdle of apathy. A blog by Andrew Kooman about the new book Hope in Action