Consumers Association of Penang

Giving voice to the little people...since 1970

ONE MONTH AFTER THE LEMBAH PERMAI LANDSLIDE

The last of the 11 victims was retrieved two days after a landslide buried construction site workers at Lorong Lembah Permai 3 in Tanjong Bungah on 21 October 2017. The majority of the victims were from Bangladesh. Out of that official number of victims, 4 were from Bangladesh, 3 from Myanmar, 2 from Indonesia, and 1 each from Pakistan and Malaysian.

Three other workers — an Indonesian, a Bangladeshi and a Myanmar national – narrowly escaped death and were warded in the Penang Hospital.

It appeared to be just another day at work. The victims and casualties were working at the basement of two high-rise residential towers under construction when the landslide occurred at 8.57am. The disaster left behind stories of dashed dreams of the victims and their families.

One of the victims, Rahaman Abdur, left his family in Bangladesh, hoping that working here would enable him to send money home. His brother Joseem joined him in Malaysia and they had the opportunity to work together for two months.

On the day of the tragedy, Joseem was with Rahaman Abdur in the basement before Joseem was asked to carry a steel beam up to ground level.

“When I reached the top, I saw the tonnes of laterite earth crashing down burying my brother and others who were with him,” Joseem said.

It was traumatic to witness an estimated 1,000 tonnes of earth and rocks sliding off the cut slope from about 10 m and obliterated whatever was in its way within minutes.

Another victim, Hossen Mia left his wife in Bangladesh when he came to Malaysia four years ago to work. His family was impoverished and has debts to settle. However, they had not expected to see him return to his village in a coffin.

His brother Alauddin came to join him in Malaysia but five months ago they worked separately.

“My brother worked at this project for only a month,” Alauddin said. “I cried every time I think of him and find it impossible to forget him.”

Hossen left behind his wife and a four-year-old son and Alauddin is worried as he has to take care of his family as well as that of Hossen’s.

“If my brother is still around then the burden will be lighter,” Alauddin explained.

In the case of the sole Pakistani in the list of victims, Raza Ali’s five-month marital bliss with Ros ended abruptly with Ros in her first trimester. Ali met Ros who worked at the canteen where he previously worked. When the canteen ceased operation, she became a full-time housewife while Ali struggled to provide for the family.

Ros has an excellent relationship with her in-laws because she and Ali had asked and received blessings from them before getting married.

“On 21 Oct at 9am, a pak cik (uncle) came and informed me that my husband had passed away,” she said. “I asked what had happened to him but I couldn’t believe what I heard.”

The pak cik told her that Ali was buried in a landslide. Ros immediately woke her son and headed to the site. She then spend two days and nights awaiting confirmation on the status of Ali.

Once confirmed, Ros called Ali’s family by phone and none of them could believe that Ali had passed away until the body arrived in Pakistan.

“I did not expect him to leave me so soon,” she said, trying to hold back tears. “I tried to forget him every day but his memories broke my heart even more. How am I going to support my family and his unborn child?”

She is in a dilemma as she does not know what to do next, now being jobless. Her parents-in-law asked her to visit them Pakistan for two or three weeks because they want to see her. Ros wanted to but she couldn’t afford the trip.

“I cry every time during video calls with my parents-in-law,” she said. “My mother-in-law kept asking me to visit them as they wanted to see me and the child inside my stomach. Insyaallah, I will surely travel to Pakistan to see them if I have the money.”

Tragic stories concerning migrant workers are common because they were often lured by agents with promises of high wages. Hence, many of them borrowed money and sold whatever little they have to come to Malaysia. In the past, they were told by the agents back in their home country that they would be working in supermarkets but ended up in ‘3D’ (Dirty, Difficult, Dangerous) jobs. Reality sinks in when they are here. Their passports are withheld either by the agent or the employer so the migrant workers are literally held bondage and likely end up as illegals when their agents did not apply for working permits.

Being exploited is part of their bitter experience. They have to work long hours and have their salaries deducted for paying agent fees, expenses such as accommodation and transport, leaving very little for their own expenses or even less to send home to pay the debts they have.