Today, Dec 18, marks International Migrants Day, a day to celebrate the contribution of migrants to our societies, and to promote their rights and fundamental freedoms across the world.
In 2006, there has been increasing attention on the phenomena of international migration. In September this year, the UN facilitated high-level dialogues amongst its member states to discuss the multi-dimensional aspects of international migration. Their focus was on how benefits could be maximised and negative impacts minimised as people continue to cross international borders.
The very history of Malaysia has been woven through its interconnections with surrounding countries. The population of Malaysia comes from many different parts of Asia and beyond from places which are now called China, India, Indonesia, Singapore, Portugal, the UK and Australia, amongst others.
In the forming of Malaysia, migrants from these distant locales became accepted as citizens, as a fundamental part of 'us'. We have embraced our rich linguistic and cultural diversity, proudly proclaiming that we are 'Malaysia, Truly Asia', because of our multicultural heritage.
We are still the recipient of migrants from all over Asia, who contribute significantly to the growth and social development of Malaysia. This is evident when we sit at coffee shops and are served by waiters and waitresses from other nations, when we pass by construction sites and see workers toiling under the hot sun to build homes and offices that will be used by Malaysians. In our own homes, domestic workers help us to clean, cook and care for our families. They have become an integral part of our lives, our economy, and our social landscape.
Migrants are away from their own homes and families for celebrations such as Christmas and New Year. When we surround ourselves with the people we love, they are by our sides far away from those that they love. Many leave their own children to care for ours; they leave their parents to support them as good sons and daughters from afar. Some were forced to leave their homelands because of political turmoil, their physical distance marked by a longing for a place where they can belong.
Malaysians too, are spread all across the world. We are found in all global cities from London to New York, Tokyo, Paris and Singapore. As our friends and families weave their lives as students, executives and workers in distant lands, we hope that they too are greeted with hospitably and treated with the same care and respect that we would give them ourselves.
International Migrants Day should not be just an abstract UN initiative. Hopefully, Dec 18 will be a day when our friends and families abroad will be welcomed for their contributions to the societies in which they live. Hopefully, it will be a day where we ourselves will appreciate the migrants around us who have made many personal sacrifices as they make their own way in an increasingly interconnected world.
May International Migrants Day be a day when even the strangers amongst us are treated as friends.