By Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS, Senior Consultant Paediatrician
Hundreds of families in Malaysia are experiencing prolonged emotional trauma from separation. These are Malaysians married to foreign spouses. While the Immigration Director General, Datuk Khairul Dzaimee Daud, has stated that foreign spouses and children of Malaysian citizens can apply for permission to enter the country, this only applies to those that are returning from countries which have no travel ban. The group that we are concerned with are those from countries where a travel ban has been imposed. The ban includes citizens from 23 countries, including France, United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, India, Indonesia, Philippines, etc.
While the immigration department states that it will review applications and appeals based on emergencies and compassionate grounds, we still have a few hundred families, with foreign spouses, separated at the present moment according to the Malaysian-based Foreign Spouses Support Group (FSSG).
Few of us understand what these families are going through at the present moment. Any parent or child that has been separated from each other for a prolonged period understands the intense pain and anguish of this separation. Children and parents are unable to sleep or eat well; they become increasingly anxious and depressed. As this drags on into months, with no certain future or resolution, children become listless and hopeless. Online communication cannot replace the hugs and presence of a parent to a child. Some fathers have yet to see their children who were delivered during the pandemic.
These separated families face not just emotional trauma but many other difficulties caused by the separation. Some are facing significant financial difficulties; others are struggling with the day-to-day burden of caring for young children or elderly parents while struggling with work or other responsibilities. Registration of births has been difficult with the foreign parent stranded overseas. Children born overseas may also not receive Malaysian citizenship.
I cannot imagine our leaders who are parents and the Immigration Department personnel, who also have children, not being able to hear the cries of these children for their parents.
I cannot imagine young children growing up at this time, especially a time of crisis, without both parents being present.
I cannot imagine that we cannot resolve this when leaders have been moving in and out of the country; when expatriates, domestic help and Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) status individuals can enter the country.
We fully understand that there are concerns that people coming back will bring the COVID-19 virus to our shores but this can be dealt with by a proper SOP and 14 day quarantine. When we do this, we must support our Malaysian families stranded overseas and not impose hefty charges and burden them financially (quarantine costs have been raised three-fold for non-citizen spouses).
We hope for resolution of this long-standing struggle. Families should not need to make an appeal. They should just be able to apply for approval to return to their families.
While these are extraordinary times, no country must be seen as enabling prolonged family separation. Extraordinary times require that we have extraordinary compassion. The COVID-19 epidemic is not about to end any time soon and the uncertainty for these families can kill the spirit. We need to offer these families hope, support and a concrete way forward as soon as possible.