Published on: Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Kota Kinabalu: A final solution needs to be reached to address the problem of Filipino refugees, including their children who have no documents, in Sabah.
Home Affairs and Research Secretary under the Settlement Unit of the Chief Minister's Department, Moktar Yassin Adam, said this on the second day of the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) on Illegal Immigrants in Sabah here.
Testifying as the fourth witness at the public hearing on Tuesday, he said an ultimate decision on 33,019 refugees that were recorded through revisions conducted in 2007 and 2010, had yet to be determined.
The aim of the revisions was to enable the 33,019 refugees to apply for the IMM13 status, which has yet to be implemented by the Immigration Department until now.
At this juncture, the Conducting Officer Manoj Kurup asked whether there was a problem in giving out the 1MM13 status to the 33,019 refugees.
Moktar replied that the unit is still at a discussion stage to get an exemption order that is under the jurisdiction of the Immigration Department.
This is because, he said, the exemption order has expired and suggested that the Immigration Department be sought on this matter in order to get further details.
"The revisions were carried out as we believed that there were refugees, who may had been left out from applying for the IMM13 documents.
"Out of the 33,019, about 15,000 are their children from the third and fourth generations originated from the Filipino refugees of the Southern Philippines who came to Sabah in the early 1970s.
"And these children who have no documents are categorised as 'stateless children' by several enforcement agencies and they could not be documented for birth certificates as marriage certificates are needed.
"So, when there is no marriage certificate, they feel it is not necessary to have the birth certificates for their children which is happening to these refugee children," he said.
Moktar said the Settlement Unit had done their best to address the matter by tracing the refugees in 2007 and 2010 where their officers had interviewed the parents and grandparents including taking their photographs and their fingerprints. The unit stopped the revision in 2010 for those who do not have valid documents.
Manoj queried a figure disclosed by the former chief of the Settlement Unit Abdul Japar Alip on 73,000 Filipino refugees on the first day of the hearing on Monday.
Moktar said he is aware of the 73,000 figure which referred to the registration for refugees from 1976 and 1985 while the 33,019 was the figure registered as a result of revisions, as of 2010.
On weaknesses of the Settlement Unit that was asked by Manoj, Mokhtar answered that the Federal and State Government need to recognise the influx of the Filipino refugees into Sabah because they have been staying here for so long and they were not given opportunities.
"For instance, the refugees' children cannot go to school as they have no documents and the weakness in the exercise was that the document cannot give hope to the refugees.
"At the same time, Sabah is lucky as the refugees provide skills like in the construction sector and, thus, the Government should come up with a solution and reach a final decision on what needs to be done in addressing the perennial issue," Mokhtar said.
He also admitted that the figure of 33,019 refugees in Sabah was not necessarily derived from the five Filipino refugee settlement scheme as they were scattered all over the State.
A member of the panel, Datuk Dr Kamaruzaman Ampon asked whether the Settlement Unit has to refer to the Federal Government for action to be done which reflected a weakness in managing the refugees in Sabah.
Mokhtar answered that he believed the State Government had initially accepted the influx of the Filipino refugees from Southern Philippines to Sabah based on humanitarian basis.
And yet, he said, no final decision has been made to address the refugee problem. Thus, he opined that the Federal Government plays an important role with the assistance of the State Government to address the issue that is a national issue and not solely a Sabah issue.
Another panel member, Datuk Henry Chin queried whether the Settlement Unit and Federal Special Task Force for Sabah and Labuan have rendered assistance or proposed ideas to resolve the problem and why there was no suggestion to issue birth certificate to the refugee children when other authorities can issue Temporary Registration Card to undocumented foreigners.
Moktar explained that State and Federal government had allowed for basic education classes to be given to the children which was done by the Special Task Force and other non-governmental organisations have been allowed to provide the basic education.
As for the issuance of birth certificates, he could not give further explanation as it is not under his jurisdiction.
On the establishment of the Settlement Unit in 1976, he said the State Government set up the unit due to the influx of Filipino refugees in Sabah in the early 1970s and the unit is designated to manage the refugees' affairs including placing them in settlement schemes.
Based on records that he read in the file, he said the presence of the Filipino refugees in the State was recorded in 1972 and that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Red Crescent were involved in the affair.
"The State Government gazetted lands for the five settlement schemes for the Filipino refugees where the UNHCR funded the setting up of four schemes in Kinarut, Tawau, Semporna, and Sandakan while the one in Telipok was funded by the State Government.
"The UNHCR funded the cost of building the houses for the Filipino refugees, initially and it (UNHCR) has stopped playing its role in the matter, which I do not have the answer as to its reasons. Nonetheless, the UNHCR did render grants to manage the schemes," Moktar said.
He added that there are 33 village refugee settlements in Sabah that are being handled by the Federal Special Task Force (FSTF) and the unit did help FSTF during its census exercise for the refugees.
To another question by Manoj, Moktar answered that the National Registration Department (NRD) and Election Commission (EC) have never consulted the unit for verification on the refugees.