By Nina Muslim
KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) -- Before Nur Amanina Aziz married Hariz Nondrey Gomer Lara, a Filipino, on Sept 22 last year, her father warned her that marrying a foreigner came with all sorts of complications.
Little did she know how painfully true his words would be.
Almost a year after her wedding, she and her husband, who is now in the Philippines, have spent most of that year apart, thanks to the pandemic.
“It’s been hard. Last two months … I’ve been really depressed. I don’t want to meet people, especially relatives. I prefer to lock myself in the room, keep people out because I was so sad,” said Nur Amanina.
After 10 months of waiting, they are possibly in for a longer wait due to Malaysia’s recent decision to ban citizens from 23 countries with over 150,000 COVID-19 cases, including the Philippines and India. Even though the government announced Sept 10 that permanent residents and spouses may be exempt, their entry is dependent on approval from the Immigration Department. However, this does not include spouses from the banned countries, according to a statement by the Immigration Department yesterday.
The travel restrictions have affected hundreds of families, according to an organisation supporting Malaysians married to foreigners. Figures from the Immigration Department in 2016 show more Malaysians marrying foreigners, with 118,581 marriages recorded in 2015.
Married for less than a year, Nur Amanina and Hariz have undergone more challenges in that short space of time than most couples in a lifetime.
First, she and Hariz had to separate when he went back to the Philippines in November last year as part of the process to apply for a Long Term Social Visit Pass (LTSVP), or spousal visa. Then, plans to return to Malaysia in May went sideways as COVID-19 struck and governments, including Malaysia, restricted international travel to contain the disease.
And now, Hariz has another hurdle to overcome: waiting for Malaysia to lift the temporary ban on his country before he can apply to enter.
Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah has justified the decision as a way to prevent another wave of COVID-19 infections in Malaysia. Malaysia recently saw several clusters brought in by travellers from India and the Philippines. It is now investigating whether two other clusters in Kedah are related.
The ban is also to prepare for the coming winter when cases are expected to rise due to more people congregating indoors.
As of Sept 9, a total of 995 people have tested positive out of 119,268 Malaysians and foreigners entering the country since April 3, according to official figures. The highest number of imported cases came from India, the Philippines and Indonesia.
Health experts that Bernama consulted understood the reasons for the restriction but said a blanket ban may prove unfair.
Datuk Dr Zainal Ariffin Omar, epidemiologist and president of the Malaysian Public Health Physicians Association, warned the data the policy was based on might be misleading.
“Certain countries have a robust screening and testing mechanism so we can depend on the data. For countries that don’t have that kind of system, we have to be cautious about it,” he said.
He said it was better to put countries on a watch list rather than impose a blanket ban on their citizens. He also maintained that Malaysia’s current containment policies, such as mandatory quarantines, were enough as long as they were correctly applied and strictly enforced.
Knowing the reasons is small comfort to the families living the harsh realities of this ban.
Some are stranded overseas with their foreign spouse and children, faced to choose between them or their family in Malaysia. Others may be separated because they were in the midst of a move to Malaysia when the sometimes-deadly disease shut international travel down.
“I have sleepless nights because there are too many things on my mind. My mind keeps wondering, ‘What are we going to do?’” said Christina (not her real name), who is married to an Indian national.
She said her husband stayed behind in India to complete his employment contract while she went ahead with her daughter to Malaysia in January to prepare for their move here.
She said they have been living on their savings and as long as she remains the sole caretaker of their daughter, she would not be able to work.
“I just pray and hope God will show us the way,” she said.
Yesterday, the Immigration Department announced that foreign spouses from banned countries would not be allowed into the country regardless of their visa status. As such, the only way for the spouses to join their Malaysian partners is to write a letter to the Immigration Department asking for approval to enter on compassionate grounds.
Datuk Khairul Dzaimee Daud, director-general of the Immigration Department, said in a statement the travel ban is back in effect against foreign spouses from the 23 banned countries.
“For countries that are subject to entry restrictions, the applications (to enter Malaysia) will not be considered until there is a decision to lift the entry restrictions for these countries," he said.
He told Bernama some conditions remain in effect, namely foreign spouses who do not have a visa and did not register their marriage with Malaysia are still prohibited from entering the country.
He added foreign spouses who enter Malaysia would not be allowed to exit without the approval of the Immigration Department.
Bina Ramanand, co-founder of the Malaysian-based Foreign Spouses Support Group (FSSG), has been helping the spouses to write the application letters. She advised anyone seeking assistance from the government to not write too often, saying the Immigration Department was swamped with requests.
“This was something nobody expected, we understand. We also understand the public health concerns,” she said.
Going forward, she hoped Malaysia would address many of the antiquated regulations and laws governing marriage to foreign spouses and change them to reflect present realities.
One of the things she hoped the government would address was the question of citizenship: allowing Malaysian mothers the right to confer citizenship on their children born overseas. At the moment only Malaysian fathers have the right.
“Make it friendlier because ultimately, the people affected and impacted by this are Malaysians,” she said.
As for Nur Amanina, she is fast losing hope and feeling optimistic is hard at times.
“I don't know what to do. I need him back here,” she said. "It's been almost one year already."
Edited by Rema Nambiar
Malaysia National News Agency
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