No ban on workers, Malaysia assures India


New Delhi/Kuala Lumpur : Amid a raging controversy, Malaysia Wednesday told the Indian government that there was no freeze on the recruitment of Indian workers as reported in a section of the media.

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External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee sought clarification from Malaysian Works Minister Samy Vellu during their discussions in New Delhi in the evening that also covered a wide gamut of bilateral and regional issues.

Vellu repeated what he said Tuesday: that there was no freeze on the intake of Indian workers, official sources said.

Vellu also met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh later in the day and assured him that there was no such ban and reaffirmed Malaysia’s commitment to deepen ties with India.

The external affairs ministry, however, did not issue any statement or press release after the meeting between Mukherjee and Vellu.

Vellu, also the president of the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) – a part of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition – said Tuesday that he had contacted Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and the home ministry secretary-general to get a clearer picture on the issue.

“It is not true. There is no such thing,” Vellu told reporters when asked about the reports of freeze on employment of Indian workers.

Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi Wednesday said at a press conference that the Malaysian government had clarified there was no ban on Indians working there and they were not being denied work visas.

Malaysian Home Minister Radzi Sheikh Ahmad told reporters in Kuala Lumpur Wednesday: “Let me state categorically that the home ministry has never come out with any ruling that we have stopped the intake of foreign workers from India.”

“This has disturbed us a lot,” he said.

Around 140,000 Indian immigrants work in Malaysia, mostly in low-paying jobs as waiters, barbers and gardeners.

Earlier in the day, Minister of State for External Affairs Anand Sharma said that New Delhi had sought a clarification on the issue from the Malaysian authorities.

“Surely, it is a matter of concern. We have sought clarification from the Malaysian government,” Sharma told reporters in New Delhi when asked to comment on the reported ban.

“Our high commissioner is in touch with authorities in Malaysia. Given the seriousness of the situation, we are waiting for the Malaysian government to issue a clarification,” he said.

The controversy was sparked off after a religious group in Malaysia claimed Hindu priests and temple workers were being denied permission to work in the Muslim-majority nation, a report said Wednesday.

The Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Taoism (MCCBCHT) says the immigration department has stopped issuing work permits to foreign priests, temple musicians and sculptors.

The reports had cast a shadow over the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, India’s annual conclave to engage with its 25 million diaspora in over 130 countries. Malaysia has the largest delegation of 130 members, led by Vellu, a frequent visitor to India.

News reports from Kuala Lumpur Tuesday quoted an unnamed home ministry official as saying that the cabinet decided to suspend the recruitment of workers from India and Bangladesh about two weeks ago. According to the reports, the ban would have taken effect from Dec 31, 2007.

It wasn’t clear if the reported ban – denied in New Delhi by minister Vellu and by Malaysian home minister in Kuala Lumpur – was linked to recent street protests by Malaysians of Tamil origin alleging discrimination by the Malay-dominated government.

Indians make up about eight percent of the two million registered foreign workers in Malaysia. They are mainly employed in the construction, IT and financial services industries in the Southeast Asian country.