TAWAU 19/11/2012: Member of parliament Datuk Chua Soon Bui has called on the government to start working with the Philippine government to address the issue of Filipino refugees in Sabah.
She made the call when debating on the 2013 Budget at the committee stage in the Parliament recently, where she inquired the Foreign Ministry on whether the Malaysia government is working closely with the Philippine government towards resolving the issue.
Chua stressed that now is the opportune time for the Malaysian government to pursue such an agenda with its Filipino counterpart, citing the recent signing of the framework agreement between the government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Manila recently.
The said peace accord signed in Manila on October, 15, 2012, was aimed at ending the protracted conflict in Mindanao. Malaysia played a significant role as the peace negotiator through Datuk Tengku Abd Ghafar Tengku Mohd, a former director-general of the National Security Council (NSC).
Chua who is also a vice president for Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP), said it is crucial for the Malaysia government to start working with its Philippine counterpart to resolve this perennial issue, as currently there are still about 60,000 refugees who are the IMM13 document holders in Sabah and many of them have children who are popularly known as the ‘stateless children’ due to their ‘unique position’.
“Many Sabahans are concerned that if this issue is not properly addressed, the continued presence of these stateless children could pose a serious social issue to the state. In fact, they already have in terms of competition for jobs with the local youths, besides competing for the use of public amenities such as the schools and hospitals,” she pointed out.
She thus proposed the Malaysia government initiate a plan with the Philippine government to set up a Philippines consulate in Sabah, so as to facilitate the voluntary return of these Filipino refugees from Mindanao who had fled to Sabah in the early 70s, to their homeland.
Chua also dismissed the reply by Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Datuk Richard Riot that the government through the Foreign Ministry had written to the Philippine government a few times requesting to set up a consulate office in Kota Kinabalu but unfortunately there was no response from them so far.
“That was in the past. Now that a peace agreement has been signed between the government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, our government must start working to resolve this long overdue issue of the continued presence of the so-called war refugees and their children in Sabah,” she contended.