It is frightening to know that there are over three million illegal immigrants who have gained access into the country and moving freely in our midst. Despite frequent raids and deportation, their number keeps increasing. Is it because our borders are so porous or is it due to ineffective enforcement? It has been estimated that we have some five million foreign workers in the country.
I have no issue with foreign workers who are healthy and are here legally. However, I am concerned with the large number of illegal foreign workers with unknown health status. According to the Malaysian Medical Association about 17,981 foreign workers or 47 per cent of those tested last year were infected with tuberculosis (TB). It is estimated that only about three million foreign workers have been registered.
Many of these illegals may be carrying diseases such as TB, HIV, AIDS, etc. The dangerous surge in the number of tuberculosis cases, including multi drug resistant TB strain among the locals in the country is very scary. This spike has been linked to the large number of foreign migrants who bypassed health screening.
Many of the illegal immigrants come from poor countries where multi drug resistant TB strain is prevalent. These immigrants come in close contact with locals in their daily activities. This puts locals at risk of contracting TB and other contagious and infectious diseases.
Experts are beginning to sound the alarm and if we continue to downplay the issue of illegal immigrants, the consequences may be far-reaching.
The time has come for the government to act. We cannot afford to compromise on public health. We need to address all the underlying causes of lapses in our immigration policies. Going by the number of letters to the press and in the social media, the public is feeling very uncomfortable with the presence of these illegals.
We need to amend our immigration laws and arm our enforcement officers with a wide range of powers to deter foreigners from working here illegally and to deal with employers who hire them.
In the process of nation building we should not ignore the importance of public health. The large number of illegal immigrants with unknown health status is like a ticking time bomb. We should intensify our efforts to flush them out and make life difficult for human traffickers and their collaborators. Corrupt enforcement officers should be identified and punished.
Health is wealth and we should never compromise it no matter what.