Homeless people “prefer to steal or beg for money and food, rather than to have a normal life,” according to a top minister for the Malaysian government.
These comments came from Datuk Seri Rohani Abdul Karim, who serves as Women, Family and Community Development Minister in Malaysia. Her ministry oversees the growing problem of homelessness in the constitutional monarchy.
According to the Sun Daily, Rohani said homeless people live an easy life in Malaysia, relying on supposed generosity from the government and individual citizens.
Homeless people and their advocates, meanwhile, tell a far different story.
A survey earlier this year found at least 1,500 people living on the streets of Kuala Lampur, Malaysia’s capital city with a metropolitan region that is home to nearly a quarter of the country’s population.
The number of homeless people in Malaysia has been growing lately due to a number of factors. There is no unemployment insurance in Malaysia, a low minimum wage that often goes unenforced, and skyrocketing housing costs. Though Malaysia’s economy has boomed in the past few decades, that hasn’t been felt in all sectors of society. In fact, it’s one of the least egalitarian countries in the world, with slightly more income inequality than the United States.
In addition, there is very little government assistance provided for those currently living on the streets. Despite more than 1,500 homeless people living in Kuala Lampur, the city has just a single government-run shelter, which provides beds for 76 people and allows them to stay for no more than two weeks.
The country also has a long-standing draconian law to criminalize homelessness. Malaysia’s Destitute Persons Act permits officials to round-up and detain homeless people into camps for up to three years. Resisting such harassment can result in imprisonment. Advocates estimate that thousands of homeless individuals in Malaysia have been targeted under this law.