Urban voices – Sabbir:
“People just don’t like us”

The following story was originally compiled for the Mixed Migration Review 2020 and has been reproduced here for wider access through this website’s readership.[1]

I have been living in Kuala Lumpur for one-and-a-half years. My plan is to earn some money here then return home to Bangladesh to open my own business, a café in my hometown. Before coming to Malaysia, I wanted to live overseas to make money. If I could, I would go anywhere in the world, maybe London, maybe Germany.

An employment agency got my visa and organised my flight. The total cost was $3,000, of which 50 percent was paid in advance. I borrowed a lot of money so my family still have debts. To repay the remaining 50 percent my salary is deducted by middlemen. My visa will expire in six months. My employer renews it, and the costs will be deducted from my salary.

I work in a plantation farm. I wake up at 7 am, and come back at around 7:30 pm, sometimes 10 pm. I usually have one or two days off a week. I don’t like my job, but I have no choice. My visa says I have to work in Kuala Lumpur for this company and the Malaysian government does not allow us to change our company.

With Covid-19, I don’t go to work as often as before, and my boss pays me less money. Sometimes I work only two or three days a week. Very little food was provided as well, but my boss provided hand sanitiser and masks for us. I borrowed some money from my friends. Here many people have a lot of problems, but in my country and my hometown there are problems too, so they understand and lend me their money.

It is very difficult to survive here as Kuala Lumpur is very expensive. Sometimes I can send some money to my family, sometimes not. Sometimes I get a full salary, there are deductions. I live with other men from Bangladesh in the suburbs. They also work in plantation farms. Four people share one room. It is an ok accommodation. We have shopping malls and small markets nearby.

I have some Malaysian friends here, but not so many. I can only make friends at my workplace. Our skin colours and languages are different. I speak a bit of Malay, but even then, they still know I am a migrant. Malaysians think that migrants and refugees are uneducated, and our work is dirty. Because of our skin colour, they think that we don’t know how to wash. With Covid-19, they think that it is unsafe to get close to us. People just don’t like us. They look at us in weird ways. They don’t see us as equal humans here in Kuala Lumpur. Not everyone here is bad to us, some people still have humanity. But after Covid-19, people think that the virus came from all migrants.

Here, there are many illegal migrants and refugees, and people mistake me for illegal people sometimes. If I did not have documents, I would have to go to detention and get punishment. I don’t have much experience with local authorities here or any other organisations. I went to an immigration office once and they were not very friendly. With the recent police raids, some Bangladeshis were arrested because their documents had expired or because they didn’t have documents. They are still in detention centres now. I am a bit worried about the situation, but if anything happens, my employer will help me.

One day, I came back to my room from work, and an immigration officer was there. He asked me where I came from, where I work, then he took me to the police station, where they asked me many questions, like if I had a visa, who my boss was. They asked me to call him and later he came to the station and brought me back.

Kuala Lumpur is very beautiful, they have some nature that reminds me of my hometown, but they also have a lot of cars and shopping malls. The transportation and hospitals are very good, but the food is so expensive. I heard Malaysia has one place called Langkawi, a very good place. That’s my dream to go there.

My hometown is a village, so we don’t have many buildings, no shopping malls, and not many markets, nothing like this city life. But I feel safer in my hometown, I have more friends and my family there. I am here alone. I have not met anyone to build my family here and I miss my family back home a lot. I would not suggest my friends or family come to Kuala Lumpur if they could make a better life than me in our hometown.

If I earn enough money here in Kuala Lumpur, I will go back to Bangladesh and open my business. But now I am not sure anymore. With Covid-19, I will think one more time about the possibilities and see how the situation will go.

[1] ‘Urban Voices’ presents seven stories from migrants and refugees living in cities drawn from detailed individual interviews conducted by MMC. They often illustrate the non-linear nature of so many migrant and refugee journeys – characterised by the twists and turns in many migrants’ erratic lives. They serve to offer evidence towards a new concept recently introduced in migration studies of circumstantial migration to describe how “migration trajectories and experiences unfold in unpredictable ways under the influence of micro-level context and coincidence.” [Carling, J. and Haugen (2020) Circumstantial migration: how Gambian journeys to China enrich migration theory. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies.] MMC did not record the names of respondents and all names in this ‘urban voices’ series are aliases.