Monday, 24 May 2010

Sabah's refugee riddle hits a wall of suspicion

Sun, 18 Apr 2010 03:56
By Queville To
KOTA KINABALU: Chaos and confusion continue to reign in Sabah over the status of thousands of refugees and undocumented foreigners residing in the state. The federal government has over the years received several dressing downs over the issue from Sabah politicians who have showed no sign of backing down. Gloomy Sabahans have likened the booming foreigner population, and the lack of response of the federal authorities, to thieves entering in the night.MP for Kota Kinabalu Dr Hiew King Cheu said the government continues to ignore, at its peril, the frustrations of the local population over the issue.
He chose to confront the silver-tongued Home Affairs Minister Hishammuddin Hussein in Parliament recently to demand an explanation why the government continued to legitimise their stay in Sabah.
Hishammuddin used the occasion to issue the government's stock reply that Mykads were only issued to those who are eligible under the National Registration Act 1959 (Article 78) in accordance to the Federal Constitution.
He then went on to explain that the IMM13 documents issued by the Immigration Department are the special passes that allow refugees to enter and stay in Malaysia on a yearly basis and are granted by the Home Affairs Ministry on humanitarian ground.
The answer left Hiew fuming.
He claims that thousands of the so-called refugees in Sabah have actually been granted citizenship by virtue of having been granted Mykads.
"The government should send foreign refugees in Sabah back to their home countries, instead of granting them Mykads and making them citizens of this country," he said in reply to Hishammuddin.
He said that there are some 96,000 refugees from the neighbouring countries holding IMM13 documents residing in Sabah and estimated that the number of refugees who had been issued with the Malaysian citizenship over the years to be no less than 30,0000 people.
Hiew contends that the government should have deported the refugees, who escaped the conflict in the Southern Philippines by fleeing to Sabah in the 1960s.
Sabah’s population has ballooned dramatically over the past four decades from 450,000 at the time of the formation of Malaysia in 1963 to 3.28 million people now.
“The most incredible increase of Sabah's population happened during the 90s with an increase of almost one million people within a period of few years,” Hiew said.
The illegal immigrant and refugee population is already expected to have a far-reaching impact on Malaysia and especially Sabah even without them being granted citizenship.
Shifting voting patterns
The government denies it is doing this.
But like most Sabahans, Hiew is not convinced.
A good number of Sabahans agree with him and believe that they have already been disenfranchised by the newcomers. They point to the sudden shift in voting patterns as proof of their contention.
Hiew says it will be doomsday for Sabah if such a trend continues unabated as it would marginalize bona fide citizens in the long run in terms of socio-economic development.
He explained that this is because locals are incapable of competing with refugees and immigrants who are willing to accept low salaries and work long hours.
He claims that this is one of the reasons for the continued exodus of Sabah youths from the state to seek employment elsewhere.
He said it is an open secret that refugees and immigrants have gained Malaysian citizenship.
Apart from being fraudulent it is also unfair to those red identity cards holders who had been residing in the country for a long time, some for more than four decades now.
They should be given priority, he said.
Hiew's assessment of the problem is not new.
Early last year, Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) vice chairman Simon Sipaun even asserted that all refugees in Sabah are actually illegal immigrants because Malaysia is neither a party to the United Nations Convention on the status of the refugees in 1951 nor the 1967 Refugee Protocol.
He made the assertion when commenting on a report in the local media about displaced Indonesians who number 12,000 and Filipinos who number 81,000, who were given the IMM13 documents that allowed them to live and work in Sabah since 1965.
Speaking at a forum organised by the Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) on Jan 9 last year, Sipaun questioned why the issue of refugees was only confined to Sabah.
He said the federal government started issuing IMM13 cards to the Rohingyas from Myanmar in Peninsular but quickly aborted it.
He also questioned why the refugees were only allowed to reside and earn their living in Sabah and not Peninsular Malaysia and why are they still in Sabah.
"The Vietnamese refugees were all gone after two years. How come that in Sabah, the refugees are still here?"
The majority of the foreigners with refugee status have been residing in Sabah for over 35 years. There is no limit to the length of their stay. Their children are allowed to attend both primary and secondary schools in the State.