Sunday, December 27, 2009

Vietnamese in Malaysia

Early Vietnamese in Malaysia?

There is no historical record of any early Vietnamese in Penang or Malaysia. Unlike Burmese, Siamese, Indonesian, Chinese ,and Indian. The closest past record was the Cham people, which may have been to Kelantan, Trenggany and Malacca. But early Cham people,if any still remain, may have assimilated into local Malay community, and difficult to identify as Cham people. There was also records of Catholic Vietnamese in Penang, coming as seminarian in College General, they were living in Penang for some years(refer to my blog, Early Catholic Vietnamese in Penang). (note: If there is any record of early Vietnamese in Malaysia, other than Cham people, I will like to know).

The early mass migration of the Vietnamese that come to Malaysia were after Vietnam War, they were Vietnamese Boat People in late seventies; and Cham refugee after unification of Vietnam. The Vietnamese migrant workers come later; and now some Malaysian Chinese marry Vietnamese brides. There are also illegal migrants.

Vietnamese Boat People
Refer to my blog article earlier dated December 20, 2009, Boat People & Pulau Bidong, Malaysia . Not many Vietnamese boat remained in Malaysia due to the restrictive policy, if there is any. Most of them went to 3rd countries who accepted them.

Vietnamese Cham People
From the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 until 1993, the Malaysian government took in no fewer than 7,000 Muslim Cham refugees from Vietnam and Cambodia, making them the only group out of the tens of thousands of Vietnamese refugees who passed through Malaysia to be accepted and settled. Though the official explanation was based on humanitarian considerations, the truth lies with Malay-Cham connections based on common Malay and Islamic identity(source:Danny Wong).

Vietnamese migrant workers in Malaysia?
Vietnamese migrant workers are an important component of Peninsular Malaysia's foreign workforce. Partly as a security measure related to terrorism dangers, the Malaysian government determined early in 2002 that recruitment of foreign workers would be carried out on a Government-to-Government basis. At that time the foreign workforce was listed at around 800,000 with only a handful being from Vietnam.

Since then, a number of MOU's (Memorandum of Understanding) have been signed or are still being negotiated with several countries including Vietnam. The MOU with Vietnam was one of the first to be negotiated and since its signing, the number of Vietnamese workers has grown rapidly. The agreement allows up to 200,000 Vietnamese workers to come to Malaysia each year. Although the broad terms of the agreement allow these workers to stay up to five years with possible extensions of an additional five years for those deemed as being "experienced" in areas of more acute needs, most are coming on two or three year contracts. The Vietnamese government grants licenses to labor-export companies to recruit and train these workers. The manufacturing and construction sectors in Malaysia already are using many such workers. Although the numbers are quite dynamic, a 2003 estimate for Vietnamese (mostly Kinh) foreign workers was 80,000.

The Vietnamese migrant population in Malaysia is estimated to be at 130,000. Many Vietnamese arrive here to work in factories, restaurants and construction sites. They usually have work contracts between 3 to 5 years. While they're all grouped as Vietnamese, not everyone is the same. They come from different ethnic groups such as Tay, Muong, Nung etc. Many come from rural areas and are mostly poor.

They encounter many problems while working in Malaysia such as mistreatment from their employers. Other problems also crop up such as accidents during work hours, lack of insurance coverage, wrongful termination, illegal deportation, exploitation and immigration issues.

The Vietnamese are also beset by social problems such as premarital sex, unwanted pregnancies, venereal diseases, alcoholism, in-fighting, robbery and gambling. Many do not know whom to turn to for help due to the language barrier (many aren't fluent in English). No one advocates for them when they are ill-treated or abused.

What are their lives in Malaysia like?
For many of these workers, their living conditions are dependent on their employers. Large employers in all sectors provide housing and transportation in fulfillment of some of the requirements under the government agreements. Even so, housing is often crowded and lack sufficient basic amenities. Working conditions can include long hours and be physically demanding. Isolation in their job site or living quarters sometimes occurs. Separation from families back in their home country is a hardship facing all foreign workers whether unskilled or professionals.

What are their needs?
Foreign workers need good access to all the normal social services plus some specialized services related to their separation from families and their isolation in a foreign culture. Since most of the Vietnamese work in larger companies with high visibility, they may be less likely to be unfairly exploited than some of the other migrant worker groups.

Vietnamese brides
There are more Malaysian now marry to Vietnamese brides, especially Malaysian Chinese. In fact there is now matchmaking agencies who will arrange marriage in Vietnam for Malaysian man. This newcomer to Malaysia may faced cultural shock and problem of adaptation; some were reported run away after marriage.

NGOs with interest in Vietnamese

1. ECAL Enterprise (PG0162564-V)
21 Westlands Road
10400 Penang, Malaysia.

Tel: +6012 559 1905

Fax: +604 226 4534

2. Vietnamese Workers Support Office:

18 Westlands Road
10400 Penang
Tel: + 6042294413
Fax: + 6042284413

National Support Phone Line: 60174943467

3. Migrant Workers' Support Center(MWSC)
Church of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
3972, Jalan New Ferry,
12100 Butterworth

4. Penang Office for Human Development,
2nd floor, Pusat Keuskupan Katolik,
290, Macalister Road,
14500 Penang
Tel: 6042273405
Fax: 6042283870
web site:

Embassy of Vietnam
Embassy of Vietnam in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
No.4, Persiaran Stonor 50450
Kualar Lumpur
+603-2148 4036
+603-2141 4692
+603-2148 4534
+603-2148 4036 (Consular)
+603-2148 3270
Vietnamese Workers Support Office:

Related articles:

1. Mass for the Vietnamese in Penang Diocese,9-3-2008,
2. Bride dumped at matchmaking agency, The star online dated 11-4-2009,
6. Vietnam-Champa Relations and the Malay-Islam Regional Network in the 17th–19th Centuries, by Danny Wong Tze Ken, Associate professor in the Department of History, University of Malaya.

1 comment:

  1. Hi!I believe my ancestors were one of the early boat people from Vietnam starting with my great grandfather. He came here with a few of his friends who then migrated to Singapore. I would like to learn more about the early Vietnamese communities living in Malaysia. My grandmother is one of the last one in my family who is able to speak Vietnamese. Please email me at