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SWWS Calls for Compassion

Sarawak Women for Women Society, Press Release - 24 November 2020

Covid 19 has affected all families especially transnational ones who had one or more members away from their Malaysian homes when lockdown began.  These families, where one partner is Malaysian and one not, have had to endure months of separation as the foreign spouse has been classed in the same category as tourists and barred from re-entry until this month when restrictions on 23 countries were lifted. 

Hopes of reunions were running high until the cost of returning was known. On top of increased airfares, the cost of quarantine, testing and  a levy of  RM2,600 for operational charges, the price has been calculated to be in excess of RM5,000 for one member, more if children aged 7 or above are returning too.  For Sarawakian families the price is higher as there are extra days in quarantine and further testing in addition to those incurred on arrival in West Malaysia.  

“Sadly, as is the usual experience of such families, their plight has been side-lined by immigration as they are seen as ‘them” not “us”.  This mindset needs to change,” notes SWWS’s President, Margaret Bedus. “Transnational families contain Malaysian citizens including young children who need both parents.The effects of long-term family separation have been proven to have lasting effects on child mental health so as a caring community we need to ensure the wellbeing of these children who are Sarawakians. To ask them to wait until CMCO ends adds to their uncertainty and stress.”

The argument has been made that such families do not pay taxes and therefore should not benefit from government support. This is erroneous as foreign spouses, if earning above the tax threshold, do pay taxes and likewise so do their Malaysian partners and both pay indirect taxes through purchases. They also contribute to the country through their work, family caring roles and their international connections.

There is still an outdated, gender-biased view that transnational families consist of either rich foreign men who should relocate their family overseas or have foreign non-working wives whose local, tax-paying husband, can meet the additional expenses. The reality is that most are ordinary families trying to make a living and contribute to life here in Malaysia where at least one of them was born.  Often, due to immigration policies, they are struggling on one income, or if the foreign spouse is allowed to work, face uncertainty as the permission to work is tenuous.

They are now being expected to pay more just to be together despite statistically likely to be earning less and facing all the problems everyone is experiencing during this pandemic including helping children with online learning.  This is hard when both parents are around and is even more difficult when single parenting due to the enforced absence of one partner.

SWWS therefore calls on both the State and Federal Governments to review their decision and show their compassion and understanding to these transnational families by including them in the current schemes to help families. Given the relatively small numbers the cost would not be that great to the country whereas enacting an inclusive policy would greatly benefit family well-being.