By Chris Teh
When the COVID-19 pandemic started hitting the worldwide nation in March this year, Malaysians living overseas who wanted to return and be with their families back home were stranded in their respective countries.
In New Zealand, stage 4 lockdown was introduced in late March, which affected the return of Malaysians there who held temporary visas such as student, visitor or working visas. Kind-hearted Malaysians who reside in New Zealand started a WhatsApp group with the High Commission of Malaysia in the country’s capital city, Wellington, to assist those stranded there to fly back home.
Inspired by what was done in New Zealand, 25-year-old Ipoh boy Darren Lee Yeu Jyn, who is currently residing in Melbourne, Australia, and pursuing his final research year at The University of Melbourne, immediately reached out to the coordinator of Global Malaysian Network, a group of Malaysians who previously brought postal votes back to Malaysia during the 14th General Elections in 2018.
“This led to the birth of the ‘Malaysians Reach Out’ initiative, which assisted the Malaysian diaspora in Australia by provision of temporary accommodation and food,” he explained. “We also pooled money to get them the essentials.
“To date, we’ve assisted around 58 stranded Malaysians primarily from Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne,” Darren noted.
Among those who were assisted, ‘Aunty Nirmala’ was the first, who flew in from Brisbane to Melbourne. Her flights got canceled at the last moment and thus, was stranded in Melbourne, knowing no one there.
“Aunty Nirmala spent the night alone at the Southern Cross Station before she headed to the Consulate General of Malaysia in Melbourne for help,” Darren stated. “An officer reached out to us for temporary assistance of accommodation and food while they arranged the next flight home for her.
“I shared Aunty Nirmala’s situation on social media and among many other kind netizens who saw the post and offered help, her son’s colleague got in touch with her and offered her accommodation before the next scheduled flight,” he expressed. “This touching gesture has proven and highlighted the community’s power despite the deadly threat of COVID-19.”
Eventually, all flights were canceled until further notice due to the closure of the Australian borders and introduction of stage 3 lockdown in Australia.
“Despite that, WhatsApp groups were created to keep fellow Malaysians updated regarding flight information,” Darren shared. “This was also an effort by fellow Malaysians living in Australia to uphold the ‘muhibbah’ spirit here.”
However, a subsequent announcement by Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister of Australia, told temporary visa holders to return to their homelands should they be unable to financially support themselves any further.
“After the announcement, flows of messages came in which mostly enquired about flight information and temporary assistance,” he remembered.
“Malaysian Airlines chartered a commercial flight to both Sydney and Melbourne, but some of the Malaysians who were desperately wanting to fly home lost their jobs here due to the pandemic and they could not afford a ticket,” Darren further stated.
“There were also two Malaysian senior citizens and a family of three, who were in Australia to visit their friends and family but they had little savings to purchase tickets for flights back home,” he mentioned. “We were able to pool enough money from a few kind-hearted Malaysian samaritans and also some officers from the High Commission of Malaysia in Canberra and the Consulate General of Malaysia in Melbourne.
“With efforts from the community, we were able to send three families back to Malaysia,” Darren expressed gratefully.
He also mentioned that there might not be flights from Australia to Malaysia until July due to many uncertainties.
“What remains unchanged for sure, is the Malaysian spirit in us,” Darren posited. “No matter where we roam, we will always be Malaysians at heart. We will continue helping fellow Malaysians in need.”
In another update, the Ministry of Health (Malaysia) reported two new cases of COVID-19 that were recorded in New Zealand, of which both are travellers returning from the United Kingdom. This ended the country’s 24-day streak of no new cases.
According to MOH, New Zealand lifted restrictions on social and economic activities except international border controls last week. However, Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, warned that there may be an inevitable increase of cases as more citizens return in the near future and some others are allowed under special conditions.