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Wind of Change

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Illegals living at expense of locals

Illegals living at expense of locals
By : Roy Goh

Squatters at Kampung Pondo in Pulau Gaya, Sabah.

KOTA KINABALU: Some wooden beams, a few zinc sheets, plywood and a few kilogrammes of nails.

That is all it takes for an illegal immigrant in Sabah to build a home on an empty plot half the size of a badminton court.

These simple box-like houses are a regular feature in most squatter colonies occupied by immigrants in the state, where the economy promises better opportunities than that of their countries of origin.

Given time and money, the house is extended, along with an increase in the number of occupants. Water and electricity are normally tapped illegally.

The utility authorities can vouch for this, based on the high percentage of non-revenue output in their accounts.

In short, these foreigners, mainly southern Filipinos and Indonesians, live at the expense of tax-paying locals.

The root of the state's illegal immigrant problem lies in the lack of political will to take action, irresponsible employers and those who offer fake documentation to them.

The latest massive exercise to flush out illegal immigrants was launched on Thursday, following a decision by a Special Federal Cabinet Committee headed by Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

The main target is to detect and deport an estimated 150,000 illegal immigrants.

Forty large squatter colonies are also on the hit list of the ongoing exercise which has been dubbed Ops Bersepadu.

Kampung Pulau Gaya's village security and development committee chairman Haji Idris Dakum knows the problem only too well.

He remembers a time when there were only two villages occupied by locals on the island, which is located opposite the waterfront here, before the mid-1970s -- Kampung Pulau Gaya and Lok Malohom.

"Filipino refugees who worked as labourers started building huts and soon it began spreading, all because the authorities did not take any stern action," said the 63-year-old retired teacher.

Now there are five other villages occupied mainly by Filipinos -- Kesuapan, Pondo, Lok Baru, Pasir Putih and Lok Urai.

Idris said it would be difficult for the authorities to take action now as many of them had been granted citizenship over the years.

Boatman Rajak Yusuf, 52, echoed similar sentiments and stressed that the most effective way to deal with the illegal immigrant problem was to demolish the squatter colonies.

"If you send one back, two will return. This is because the first one will tell a friend or relative there is a house ready for them if they return."

Contraband cigarette peddler Jumayah Jumat, a Filipina, said she would rather not live in a squatter area but she didn't have a choice because her husband's employer did not provide them with accommodation at the construction site in Likas where he works.

"We bought a (squatter) house for RM3,000 in Penampang two years ago and have stayed there ever since," said the 40-year-old, who plies her trade in the Lido area about 5km from here.

"It's not easy living in a squatter area because we are always on alert in case the authorities come. We do have proper documents but we are not supposed to be here in the first place."

Local Government and Housing Minister Datuk Hajiji Mohd Noor said the government was well aware of the problems in the squatter colonies:

"Cable thefts, illegal water usage and electricity connections, criminals hiding out, illegal immigrants, unhygienic conditions and many more. These are well known problems as far as squatter colonies are concerned."

That was why the government decided to launch the massive operation, including demolishing the squatter villages, he explained.

"I have issued an order for the local authorities to offer full cooperation during the exercise, which is spearheaded by security agencies such as the police and army."

Six years ago a massive operation codenamed Ops Nyah II Bersepadu was launched successfully, but it fizzled out within a year and the number of illegal immigrants began increasing again.

"This time it will be different because we have full federal support and it will run continuously," the minister claimed.

He added that RM50 million had been allocated for the purpose.

Source : New Strsit Times

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