Illegal immigrants in Sabah: A numbers game

The recent figures seem to show that the population of illegal immigrants in Sabah has not only increased, but no action has been taken to stem the tide.

Free Malaysia Today

KOTA KINABALU: Ask Sabahans if they believe the census and official figures given by the government on the number of illegal immigrants residing in the state after the recent registration exercise and they will laugh and roll their eyes.

They are not the only ones. Even illegal immigrants in the state will tell you the figures given by the Immigration Department are way off the mark.

Ismail (not his real name), an illegal immigrant who works at a building site here and does odd jobs, is one of them. He has been here for more than a decade along with an uncle and his family.

He has even gone back to the Philippines to see his family several times from Tawau. It’s easy he says.

What he does is get passage on a small boat which will take him out to sea, board the ferry heading for Zamboanga in the southern Philippines at mid sea and just like that, he’s out. It’s the same way back.

He says for every one illegal immigrant who has registered there is at least one unregistered.

The Immigration Department says it has registered close to one million immigrants and 200,000 of them are illegal.

Ismail scoffs at this figure, something agreed by former senator and political activist Dr Chong Eng Leong.

Ismail is one of those who did not bother to register himself along with his family during the recent ballyhooed registration exercise, one in a number held since the Umno-led Barisan Nasional coalition government came to power in the state in 1994.

Ismail’s uncle who came to Sabah in the mid 70s is already a permanent resident along with his children. One has become a bumiputera through marriage to a native and has gained all the entitlements which come with the status.

Nothing being done

Chong, now a Sabah PKR leader, also pointed out the conflicting figures on the illegal immigrant population in Sabah as provided by the government.

The illegal immigrant activist said the figures bandied about by the government are suspect.

Sabah Immigration Department Director Mohd bin Mentek on Thursday, commenting on 2010 Census, said that there were about 800,000 non-Malaysians living in the state. Of this number, about 200,000 are illegal residents.

Chong however noted that the Yearbook of Statistics Sabah 2010 stated that there were 932,300 non-Malaysians in Sabah and 22,900 in Labuan.

“One would take it that these foreigners were those in possession of valid documents. We were told on July by the state secretary Sukari Wakiman that there were estimated 500,000 illegal immigrants
in the state.

“But now we are told that 200,000 illegals were amongst these foreigners in the 2010 Census,” he said.

He also wants to know why the illegal immigrants were merely counted during the census exercise and registered as illegals and then allowed them to remain in Sabah.

“This non-action by the authorities further confirms our perception that both state and federal governments are not sincere in tackling the problem in Sabah,” he said.

The state government has been accused of never being serious about wanting to resolve the perennial issue affecting Sabah where allegations of vote-fixing using illegal immigrants as a vote bank have been hurled against it for decades.