chapter  7
25 Pages

The Filipinos in Sabah: unauthorised, unwanted and unprotected


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The massive deportations carried out by Malaysia in 2002 called attention to the manifold issues and tangled realities of unauthorized migration.1

Alarmed by the unabated presence of unauthorized migrants – often referred to as ‘illegal migrants’ or ‘illegals’ – Malaysia resolved to amend its Immigration Act to deal decisively with unauthorized migration by way of more punitive measures.2 Effective from 1 August 2002, the amendments provide for unauthorized workers to be caned, gaoled for six months and/or fined M$10,000. The riots staged by Indonesian workers in January 2002 provided the Malaysian government with a rationale to hasten the crackdown, beginning with the decision to make Indonesians a last priority in the hiring of migrant workers. Indonesians comprise the majority of some 1.2 to 1.7 million migrant workers in Malaysia.3 Discourses on unauthorized migration as a ‘problem’ were heard in Malaysia, as well as in the Philippines and Indonesia, the countries most affected by the forced repatriations of their nationals. In Malaysia, the problem was linked to enforcement and national security, concerns which justified the deportations. Meanwhile, in the Philippines and Indonesia, media reports chronicled the tragic toll of the deportations, especially as the deadline approached. Malaysia’s unrelenting stance strained relations with its neighbours. In the Philippines, outrage over the treatment of Filipinos reignited calls to review its claim to Sabah.4