Malaysian police and opposition MP help the hungry in Johor Bahru

The white flag movement signals the growing desperation of Malaysians who have been affected by an indefinite lockdown that has resulted in job losses and slashed incomes. PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysian police have joined hands with the opposition in Johor's capital to help residents raising white flags to signal that they have been hard-hit by the lockdown and desperately need help.

Parti Keadilan Rakyat lawmaker for Johor Baru, Mr Akmal Nasir, said that police from the Larkin suburb had requested to meet him.

"They wanted to talk about the white flag movement. The police force are among those who conduct patrols most frequently and they sympathise when there are houses with white flags," Mr Akmal posted on his Facebook page on Monday (July 5).

He said he assured police that he would provide assistance to needy residents as soon as possible, and uploaded a video of him and the police handing out groceries to families that day.

The white flag movement or #BenderaPutih signals the growing desperation of Malaysians who have been affected by an indefinite lockdown that has resulted in job losses and slashed incomes.

Last week, Mr Akmal posted photos of an apartment in Larkin where two families had raised white flags after having run out of food. "They have lost their source of income since the lockdown began and didn't know where to get help," he said.

The campaign has gained momentum on social media since it started last week, with students creating an app called Sambal SOS to help people locate food banks and white flags across Malaysia.

Leaders from Parti Islam SeMalaysia, part of the ruling Perikatan Nasional government, have scorned the movement, saying it was better to pray to God for help, and that it was "political propaganda".

Twitter user Firdaus Azil wrote: "To some #BenderaPutih is a political propaganda. To the masses, #BenderaPutih is the lifeline, the last effort. Look at the tears, empty stomachs. Have mercy."

Most states in Malaysia are under a full lockdown since June 1. Many parts of Klang Valley are under the tightest form of lockdown, after recording stubbornly high numbers daily. Kuala Lumpur and Selangor had 1,550 and 3,260 cases respectively out of the country's total of 7,654 on Tuesday (July 6).

Malaysia's unemployment rate dropped to 4.6 per cent in April but the impact of the ongoing lockdown is now being felt, with soup kitchens seeing a rise in people seeking food.

The pandemic has had a particularly harsh impact on Johor, with many living on the streets after they lost their jobs in Singapore following border closures.

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Meanwhile, there have been allegations that some people have been taking advantage of good Samaritans.

The SMT Frozen Food and Snack wholesaler in Pontian, Johor, posted on Facebook this week that people had been taking free food packages from its shelves several times a day.

The shelves, stocked with items such as rice, sardines and pineapples which were given by donors, were meant for people facing financial hardship, the store said, adding that those who take the food will now have to record their details to prevent abuse.

A video has also been making the rounds, showing a man being accused by his neighbour of raising the white flag outside his house on more than one occasion to obtain money and other donations despite not being a destitute.

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