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Why the exodus to Sabah continued
Published on: Friday, October 28, 2016

Kota Kinabalu: The flood of migrants from Mindanao to Sabah was partly encouraged by certain Sabah politicians who wanted to be the Sultan of Sulu, two Filipino researchers opined.

They also saw it as a consequence of the fall of Muslim-led Usno and Berjaya administrations.

These migrants, supposedly war refugees, and with arms and ammunition from Libya, continued to make a beeline to Sabah to change its demography and electoral patterns, influencing democratic governance.

Myfel Joseph Paluga and Andrea Malaya Ragragio of the Department of Social Science, University of the Philippines, Mindanao, said this in their presentations at the 10th International Malaysian Studies Conference held here recently.

"These waves of evacuations (or bakwit, in local language) are considered a deliberate response to the series of reported 'militarisation' in their villages," they said.


Both Paluga and Ragragio opined that: "If the term 'internally displaced' referred only to those forced to leave their homes 'suddenly or unexpectedly' or 'in large numbers,' many serious cases of internal displacement would be excluded.

They said the term "forced to flee" is too narrow. Bosnian Muslims did not flee; they were expelled from their homes on ethnic and religious grounds. Countless numbers in Myanmar, Iraq and Ethiopia also did not flee; they were forcibly moved by their governments for political and ethnic reasons.

"In Mindanao," they said, "there are cases where the displaced often fled in small numbers in order to make themselves less conspicuous, or where the displacement happens in a slow, trickling in process happening in decades and so do not appear "suddenly and in large numbers."

"There are also cases in which persons feel 'obliged to leave because of impending conflict or other disturbance."


There were proposals to expand definitions to encompass those who migrate to Sabah because of extreme poverty and other economic problems. In most cases of economic migration, the elements of coercion is not so clear, and it was believed that development programmes generated by national and international agencies would be the most appropriate means of addressing these problems.

Paluga and Ragragio asked in their presentations: "How critical is the coercive element (as in migration) in condition of uprootedness in order to merit help?"

"What we can learn from the ground realities (within Asean) is that institutional and international humanitarian-concern framings regarding the so-called 'refugee problem' should periodically calibrate itself to emerging phenomena from the ground.

"They cannot be better than the current regime being birds of the same feathers, as once an Usno/Umno man, as a saying goes, will always be one of the same character used to the same manipulative crony economic system."

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