By Borneo Insider 21/2/2014
Recent census conducted at water villages in Sandakan is part of a comprehensive approach by ESSCOM to tackle the problem of illegal immigration to the state, says its boss.KOTA KINABALU: Decades of an ‘open door’ policy which allowed hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to pour into Sabah from neighboring countries, has left authorities facing a mammoth task of locating, identifying and determining what they are doing.
A data gathering exercise at four Sandakan water villages – Mangkalinau, Cahaya Baru, Muhibbah, Good View/Forest – proved how massive the exercise is when government authorities found that the villages were mainly populated by foreigners.
“We want to know how many citizens and non-citizens are living there. For the non-citizens we need to know what kind of identification documents are they holding and why they are there,” said Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM), Director-General Mohammad Mentek, the man tasked with drawing up a kind of who’s who list and recommending what to do next.
Mentek said the recent exercise conducted by officials under his command was purely for information gathering and not an immigration raid.
His office is now sorting through various categories of identification documents and planning their next move.
“We need to check the identification documents they have, whether it’s genuine or not. Some are issued by Federal agencies, the State, UNHCR and others,” he said.
“Those illegals without any identification documents whatsoever will be handled by Immigration Department, Registration Department, Task Force and other relevant agencies.
“Those with no valid documents will be dealt with in accordance with the law. ESSCOM will assist these agencies in carrying out their duties,” he said in an email reply to Borneo Insider.
Calling it a ‘mopping up’ operation, Mentek explained is officials were merely conducting a census of occupants of houses that were left out because nobody was present when the earlier team did their count.
“There are 244 houses are involved, and the Statistics department had already completed the mopping up yesterday 18 /2/ 2014,” he said, adding that the additional data gathered would allow for a more accurate reading and analysis.
Despite finding a large number of illegal immigrants, no arrests were made because the census was purely a data gathering exercise, he said.
“We need to tackle this problem as a whole and provide for a long-lasting and effective solution. How can we know of the actual number of citizens and non-citizens in this area when people are scared, running away during the census?
“With the promise of no detention during the census, we were able to capture a wide array of information and reflect the scale of the problem,” he said.
He hoped the data would help the government plan what to do next such as the cost of resettlement and upgrading of infrastructure in case that was the only solution.
ESSCOM currently estimate is that there are over 126, 000 people living in water villagers in Sabah, however only a comprehensive census would give a more accurate figure.
According to the result of the current survey, ESSCOM discovered that more than 70% of the population of the water village of Mangkalinau were illegal immigrants and foreigners.
The census noted that some had moved in from other squatter areas, some were recent economic migrants from the neighboring countries.
“I expected this based on our census done in Simunol, Semporna earlier last year,” Mentek said.
ESSCOM, he said, had identified several important strategies to reduce the influx of the illegals in Sabah. One of them is the tightening of maritime border control.
Also being studied is a more coherent approach to the task of deterring illegal immigration.
Mentek also emphasised that the the success or failure of their efforts to control the entry of immigrants into the state would depend on the cooperation of general public and employers.
Property owners, he said, should not rent their premises or allow their land to be used by illegal immigrants to build their homes.
“Employers in the state must not hire illegal worker as it is against the law and would attract more illegals to come and stay in Sabah especially in the water village,” he said.
“Bilateral agreements and understanding with neighboring countries are also important,” he added.
The four day census operation was announced on February 14 by the ESSCOM and involved some 450 personel comprising government officials and students. The other enumerators are from the Statistics Department, Sandakan Municipal Council, police, and military, Health Department, National Registration Department and Immigration Department.
“Based on the 2010 statistics, there were 4,500 houses in the villages, which had 13,000 residents but the initial survey showed 5,000 houses with 18,000 residents,”said Mentek on the announcement day. - JJ