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Malaysia has not frozen the recruitment of workers from India, a Cabinet minister said, denying earlier reports by government officials that triggered a furor in India.
“I spoke to the prime minister and the Home Ministry secretary-general. The statement is not true,” Works Minister Samy Vellu told reporters Tuesday in New Delhi, India, where he is attending a conference of the Indian Diaspora.
“There is no truth in the ... report,” said Samy, the only ethnic Indian in the Malaysian Cabinet, according to national news agency Bernama and India’s NDTV television news network.
The turnaround came hours after Home Ministry officials told foreign news agency reporters that Malaysia has stopped recruiting Indian workers, citing a Cabinet order of December 18.
The officials read out the Cabinet order to the reporters on the phone.
Samy gave no explanation for the flip-flop by the government, and the officials who had earlier spoken to reporters were not available for comment late Tuesday.
The ban report came on the day Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony ended a three-day visit to Malaysia, and caught Indian officials off-guard. It was not mentioned during Antony’s talks with Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and other top officials, including those of the Labour Ministry.
About 140,000 Indian migrants work in Malaysia, comprising the third largest group of foreign workers. Most take low-paying jobs as waiters, barbers and gardeners. Some, however, hold top professional posts in banks and information technology industries.
One Home Ministry official had told AP that the ban was related to recent unrest among Malaysia’s minority ethnic Indians, who are demanding racial equality in the Muslim-majority country.
Another ministry official also confirmed the ban order. Both spoke on condition of anonymity, citing policy.
About 8 per cent of the country’s population is ethnic Indian, some of whose families have lived in Malaysia for at least two generations. Malays, who are Muslims, form 60 per cent of the population.
In November, about 20,000 ethnic Indians, most of whom are Hindus, demonstrated on the streets, complaining of discrimination, in a rare and open challenge to the government.
The government jailed the five top leaders of the group that organized the protest, the Hindu Rights Action Force.
Malaysia’s ethnic Indians say an affirmative action programme that favours Malay Muslims denies them equal access to jobs and education. They also say their religious rights are being trampled by Islamic officials.
The reported decision to ban Indian workers - which was not officially announced - was revealed when reporters called the Home Ministry for comment on a statement by a religious group that Indian temple priests, sculptors and musicians were being denied permission to work in Malaysia. (AP)
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