KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 11 — Silence has descended on the Selayang wholesale market over the past few weeks as shoppers enter in fear of Rohingya workers in a longstanding turf war with locals.
There have been similar clashes over the years but the latest flare-up which left one dead and two injured was the first time someone had been killed.
The problem goes back to the time when the Rohingya’s began working at stalls and renting shoplots in the vicinity for use as homes for their wives and children.
Local gangsters upset over the influx of migrants tried to muscle in to control the market and its surroundings which led to confrontation with the foreigners.
Many of the Rohingya carry United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) identity cards issued to migrants while some have no documentation.
Locals operating stalls inside the market said the violence had led to a drop in business and a climate of fear among restaurant owners and businessmen who frequented the place.
They said the throng of customers had fallen over the years with locals boycotting the place after outbreaks of violence only to return when things cooled down.
Malay Mail visited the market recently to get a firsthand look at the situation following complaints from locals that they were afraid to go marketing after the stabbing of a local on January 13.
This was followed by a drive-by shooting later the same day which left a man and a toddler injured.
Policemen and soldiers stationed at the market advised the team to speak politely to workers inside, the same advice followed by locals patronising the stalls.
Fruit seller Chin Han Yeong, 78, who sells fruits and vegetables, said the incidents had discouraged locals from coming to the market, leading to them having to pay higher prices elsewhere.
“I moved here from the old market nearby 15 years ago. So, it is fair to say I have been here since day one.
“We did thriving business back then but gradually the migrants moved in and things went downhill,” he said.
Chin said problems began when local gangsters who had enjoyed control of the area became upset by the influx of migrants. “This caused tension which boiled over resulting in fights. The most recent incident was the worst.”
Chin said it was becoming increasingly difficult to do business with no one able to identify a solution to the matter.
“Tell me how we are going to do business with things like this going on? We can make do but for how long can we put up with this?” he asked, adding that presence of policemen and soldiers had helped calm the situation.
But other traders complained that their local and foreign staff were afraid to turn up for work fearing further clashes.
They lamented having to throw away rotting vegetables due to a lack of customers.
Joann Goh, 38, who sells vegetables, said the violence had robbed the market of the festive atmosphere that existed years go with customers and stallholders easily striking up friendships.
“Today, suppliers come in and quickly push off their stock and leave as fast as possible. The same applies to customers as no one wants to hang around and chit-chat anymore.
“Most of the stalls are run by families. The place is not safe anymore for us,” she said.
Goh said prior to the migrant influx, the only “fights” in the market involved friendly banter involving the traders competing fiercely.
“Now it is for real, with stabbings and shootings. I do not understand why these people cannot just get along and do business. Look at all the trouble they have caused,” she said.
A long time fish monger who only wanted to be known as Ah Lai, 65, complained that her workers had not turned up since the incident.
“They are afraid they would be next. The violence had unnerved them and it is difficult to do business. Look around, this place looks deserted compared to how things used to be,” she said.
Ah Lai said the only solution would be to clear out the illegal migrants who had flooded the area and brought all kinds of social problems with them.
“This used to be a good area. There were problems now and then but nothing like this. I hope the authorities take firm action so that we can get back to the way things were,” she said.