APRIL 25 — One thing I find people here don’t seem to fathom is the illegal immigration problem in Sabah. It’s a problem that’s gone on for decades — not helped by how porous our borders are.
Some of you think it’s as easy as kicking them out. It’s not that simple. Policing Sabah’s borders is tricky. We are one of the largest states in Malaysia and we share our borders with neighbouring Indonesia, with the southern Philippines only a stone’s throw away. Sabah does not have the resources nor the manpower to man each border and prevent illegals from either crossing over via land or taking boats across the sea.
It doesn’t help that illegal immigrants have been utilised as a convenient means to pad votes come election time.
Everyone knows that while permanent residents in Malaysia aren’t allowed to vote, illegal immigrants are somehow pressed into voting. Deny it as much as Barisan Nasional wants, it’s an open secret that illegal immigrants are given money and the equivalent of “instant citizenship” via gifted MyKads.
Not too long ago, National Registration Staff in Sabah were even found to be selling MyKads.
Some illegal immigrants have lived in Sabah so long, they feel they have gained the right to stay. After all, their livelihoods, their children are all invested in the land. They’re the chosen form of cheap labour by employers who don’t want to have to deal with the messiness of employing locals. Illegal immigrants aren’t picky about where they live or what they get paid. So long as it’s enough for them to survive on, they’re all right.
None want to return to their countries of origin, especially the Southern Filipinos. In the Philippines, they’re often discriminated against in the predominantly Roman Catholic country. Muslims are often painted unfairly as terrorists or possible security hazards. It doesn’t help that the Philippines is a country where the income divide is huge and it’s far easier to get work in Sabah than it is in their own country.
Pulau Gaya, for instance, has become a shantytown of sorts for illegals. They fish, they build their rickety houses and they find comfort in being surrounded by people like them.
If, say, there were massive operations to remove and repatriate them, where would the funds come from? Their countries of origin are loath to care for their circumstances, being burdened enough with the care of the citizens they already have. Yet integration is not an option — most Sabahans do not care for these “intruders” who they often blame for the high crime rates in the state.
Had the problem been nipped in the bud, perhaps things wouldn’t be as dire as they are now. Sabah has this huge unchecked population of illegals, with an influx that will not be stopping any time soon. Most of these “economic immigrants” have been comfortable for so long because those who had the power to limit their arrivals, did nothing to stem the tide.
Even the so-called royal commission of inquiry Sabah politicians have been calling for has yet to materialise. The other problem is finding a humane solution because these are people we’re dealing with. Not mosquitoes. Not weeds. But people.
Many Sabahans do not even feel their votes matter anymore. “Why should I vote? The government will just give ICs to illegals to vote anyway.” The helplessness, the defeatism, those are things you might not understand especially you lobbyists for “a change.”
Next week I will tell you a story about a man, a man who once believed he could stand against BN and had Sabahans believing along with him. But it is a sad tale about how he eventually found that the power of the vote in Malaysia is a power that can easily be misused.