73,000 Filipinos fleeing civil strife accorded refugee status in M'sia

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Kota Kinabalu (The Star/ANN) - A retired senior state civil servant has revealed that some 73,000 Filipinos fleeing civil strife in the southern Malaysia were accorded refugee status in Sabah between 1976 and 1985.

Former Chief Minister's Department Settlement Unit head Abdul Jaafar Alip told the Royal Commission of Inquiry that these Filipinos were given refugee status after an interview to ensure that they fell under five criteria-they came from Region IX of the Philippines and to Sabah between 1970 and 1984; they were directly involved in the conflict there; they were Muslims and willing to stay in the state permanently.

Region IX, he added, comprised various southern provinces in the Philippines, where Bajau and Suluks made up the majority of the population.

Those accorded the refugee status were given social work pass documents, which eventually came to be known as the IMM13, said Abdul Jaafar.

To a question from Conducting Officer Manoj Kurup, he said the exercise to register the Filipino nationals as refugees was abrupt-ly halted in September 1985 soon after the Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) came into power in the state.

However, Abdul Jaafar said a subsequent census by the unit on Sabah's transient population between 1987 and 1992 showed that there were 325,000 illegal immigrants in the state and these included Filipinos, Indonesians, Pakistanis and Indian nationals.

Authorities, he said, carried out another registration exercise after it was found that some of those involved in the census between 1987 and 1992 qualified for refugee status, estimated to number about 9,000.

Abdul Jaafar said initially, five areas had been designated as settlements for Filipino refugees in Sabah but a sharp increase in numbers saw the immigrants occupying some 30 kampung throughout the state.

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