Deportees from Sabah arrive amid crackdown on illegals

Posted on February 26, 2013

BONGAO, TAWI-TAWI -- A boat from Sabah arrived here late Tuesday last week carrying more than 150 Filipino deportees amid an ongoing standoff between Malaysian forces and armed followers of the Sultan of Sulu in the town of Lahad Datu.

FILIPINO DEPORTEES from Sabah disembark at the Bongao port on board Malaysian-owned MV MidEast Express. -- Darwin T. Wee
The deportees braved the high seas as strong waves battered the Malaysian-owned MV MidEast Express during the six-hour voyage.

Carrying small plastic bags, Kayam Hussin, 63, said the bags are her only possession after she was nabbed by Malaysian authorities in Sabah. She said she has been living in Sabah for more than four decades and most of her family members all stay in the island.

A Badjao native, Ms. Hussin said she does not have proper documents when she sailed to Sabah decades ago.

"I don’t know where to go since all my relatives are still in Sabah," the old woman told BusinessWorld in the vernacular as she and others deportees waited for their travel documents to be processed by the government’s immigration and social welfare staff at the local port.

Another deportee, who asked to be identified only as Lyn, said she was working in a night club in Sabah for more than a year, but was caught four months ago by a Malaysian state agent disguised as a customer.

"I have travel documents including my passport. The only problem is that my employer described my work in Sabah as plantation worker in my visa, not as a guest relations officer," she said in the vernacular.

Originally from Zamboanga City, Lyn recounted the horrors when she was jailed and maltreated by Malaysian authorities.

"When you violate jail rules, you will face severe punishment. You’ll be asked to crawl," she said as she choked in tears.

She was encouraged to find work in Sabah to support her three young children. "I am separated from my husband. I decided to work in Sabah since there are no jobs available [in Zamboanga]," she said.

Officials of the Department of Social Welfare and Development in this province said they expect the numbers of Filipino deportees to increase as Malaysian authorities crack down on illegal migrants, particularly Filipinos, over tensions in Lahad Datu.

Thousands of illegal migrant Filipinos have been deported by the Malaysian government since 2000 after it started a drive against illegal aliens. Still, many Filipinos illegally slip through the southern backdoor, while others were fooled by illegal recruiters. The provincial social welfare office, however, could not readily provide statistics on the issue.

Hadji Julfin Sadjili, operation manager of MidEast Express, said he expects more trips from Sabah to Bongao as he was told that there are more than 250 Filipinos scheduled for deportation in the next few weeks.

"As of now, we can only accommodate 150 since our vessel has only 192 seating capacity," he said.

Last week, a vessel carrying 113 persons that left Maluso in Basilan was intercepted by the Philippine Coast Guard in the island-municipality of Taganak in Sulu province.

The vessel was bound for Sandakan, a major Sabah seaport, and authorities said all passengers have no travel documents. -- Darwin T. Wee