Malaysia cracks down on illegals in Sabah
MANILA - Malaysian authorities rounded up thousands of people on Sunday in what was seen as the start of a massive crackdown on illegal immigrants in Sabah, starting in the Lahad Datu area where followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III engaged Malaysian forces in deadly clashes earlier this year.
Those arrested included 1,870 Indonesians, 38 Chinese, 30 Vietnamese, 24 Pakistanis, 12 Nepalese, three Indians, two Ukrainians, one German and one Bruneian. There were no Filipinos mentioned.
But news reports said Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman disclosed on Monday that Filipinos formed the bulk of illegal immigrants deported from January to July 2013.
“Foreigners without any documents in these settlements will be referred to the Immigration Department for further action,” The Star Online quoted Musa as saying.
He said that of at least 8,190 foreigners deported from Sabah between January and July this year, 6,209 were Filipinos. Lahad Datu is in the east of Sabah, closest to Tawi-Tawi and Jolo with a population of 156,000, according to the 2000 census.
Saravana Kumar, a deputy-director at Malaysia’s Immigration Department said that in the first phase of the operation that would continue until this year-end, they plan to arrest and deport about 400,000 illegal immigrants and arrest about 45,000 employers of such workers. The Department of Foreign Affairs said that as of Monday, they have not received any report of Filipinos arrested since the start of the crackdown Sunday.
“But the e government is ready to provide all necessary assistance to Filipinos who may be affected by these operations,” said Spokesman Raul Hernandez.
Malaysia, Southeast Asia’s third-largest economy, is clamping down on cheap illegal labor as it strives to move up the value chain from its agricultural base into more high-end manufacturing and services. About 1.3 million overstayers registered for permits during an amnesty in 2011, Saravana said. This is the second nationwide crackdown since then on those who failed to come forward.
The operation “will continue till end of the year and during this process, we will identify, arrest, charge and deport all those who have committed offenses under the Immigration Act,” Alias Ahmad, director general of immigration, said in a telephone interview. “Employers found harboring or employing illegal immigrants will be charged in court.” The government estimates there are still more than 400,000 foreign laborers who haven’t obtained legal documents, Saravana said. Malaysia has 30.1 million people and had an unemployment rate of 3.1 percent at the end of last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
The move coincides with an expected slowdown in economic growth. The central bank cut its forecast for growth this year to 4.5 percent to 5 percent last month after expansion last quarter fell short of economists’ estimates.