Best solution for problem of illegals

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Granted that this prosper thy neighbour approach is a long-term measure, it has worked in many other parts of the world. This is one of the ways the US government has used to reduce the influx of migrants from Mexico.

Home Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said on April 10 that the Malaysian government has sent a team to discuss with “the so-called reported middle person” concerning a RM36.4 million ransom demand for the release of Chinese tourist Gao Huayun, who was kidnapped by seven Filipino gunmen at the Singamata Reef Resort in Sabah.

It’s shocking that the government appears to be hasty in entertaining such a demand against all principles of good judgement.

Among the very first lesson that a police or military rookie would learn at an academy is that the demands by kidnapers or terrorists should be resisted at all costs.

It was widely speculated in the Taiwanese media that the family of Taiwanese hostage Evelyn Chang An-wei, held by Abu Sayaff gunmen in the southern Philippines island of Jolo following her kidnap at Pom Pom Island off Semporna on Nov 15 last year, paid a ransom of US$300,000 (RM1 mil).

Kidnapping has become a million-dollar business; 500 million pesos to be exact. No wonder they keep coming back once every few months.

Earlier, there had been other alarming news that at least 11 seaside resorts within the Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) zone had employed illegal immigrants from the southern Philippines.

Does this mean, for instance, that fifth columnists are in our midst; that foreigners having close links with perpetrators of violent acts against Malaysia are already well entrenched on our sovereign soil?

Sabah police commissioner Datuk Hamza Taib has confirmed the police have reason to believe the gunmen had “inside help” to get into the resort. The biggest puzzle is why the immigration, police and other law enforcement arms have turned a blind eye to such a security threat all this time.

Whilst the government is still contemplating how to deal with the RCI findings on the illegal immigrants issue, allow me to offer some pointers on the search for a lasting solution to this “mother of all threats”.

In looking at cross-border immigration control from a wider perspective, we have to study the “push and pull” factors. The pull factor is plainly this – Filipinos flock to Sabah mainly for economic reasons.

The push factor is the unrest in the southern regions of Mindanao, which erupted in the 1960s resulting in the first wave of “refugees from the Philippines” being accepted in Sabah on humanitarian grounds. The rest is history.

The immediate action to arrest cross-border immigration is of course the building of walls between the two countries. In this case, it is the building of a security wall, rather than a concrete one like the Berlin Wall.

Since the government has lost its way on the illegals issue and needs prompting, the directional signs below might help:

Immediate and short-term measures

• Replace the civilian chief executive of Esscom with a military commander and see that there is a tighter and more effective control to prevent further influx of migrants, bandits and kidnappers from the southern Philippines;

• Conduct another state-wide registration of immigrants, particularly those from the Philippines and Indonesia, as was done before, within a fixed amnesty period;

• Review all questionable MyKad holders numbering at least 130,000 and have them cancelled if found to be false or issued by illicit methods;

• Use existing laws to slam the book on locals who employ and/or rent premises to foreigners without valid papers; and

• Esscom and all relevant authorities, working closely with community leaders in the 10 districts within the zone, should identify and block all “jalan tikus” or secret paths along the coast to deny illegals easy entry into the state.

Such short-term measures, if seriously and effectively implemented, will minimise the pull factor, making the migrants aware that Sabah is no longer that easy to enter without valid documents.

Medium-term measures

• Elected leaders should make a thorough study of existing laws to combat illegal immigration by imposing stiffer fines, and introducing caning for illegal immigrants arrested and those who employ them;

• Our lawmakers should also review laws and recommend amendments to existing ones that deal with kidnapping, terrorism, piracy, economic sabotage, and acts of violence particularly those against tourists;

• In order not to cause grave setbacks to the economy of the state, particularly in the building and construction sector, migrant workers found to have employment might be allowed to return to the state after making a return trip home to obtain valid travel papers; and

• Federal and state manpower ministries and departments should work closely with universities, colleges and training institutes to gear the local workforce to fill the gap that might be left by the departure of illegals.

Long-term plans

When there is a marked difference in economic status and living conditions between the two countries, one of the ways to eliminate immigration in large numbers is to elevate the poorer country to a higher level of economic status.

In the case of the war-torn Mindanao province of the Philippines, the way to reduce the push factor there is to ensure a lasting peace among the warring parties. Malaysia made the right move in brokering the peace talks between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Najib's government should take this initiative a step further by influencing government-linked companies (GLCs) as well as private multi-nationals to invest in the poverty-stricken region of Mindanao in plantations, agriculture, fisheries and other sectors.

There are other avenues by which Malaysia could assist. Many of our research institutes with long experience in their respective fields could also lend a hand in such a move.

Offering of expertise in Islamic banking, finance and establishment of halal industries are other possibilities of assistance and collaboration in business, trade and industry in the southern Philippines.

Another step that could be taken is to appoint a full minister, perhaps within the ministry of international trade and industry (Miti), to take charge of matters related to BIMP-EAGA, the Asean sub-regional economic growth area that covers both the southern Philippines and Sabah.

Once new industries begin to spring up and economic sectors begin to boom in the southern Philippines, the pull for Filipinos in Sabah could be reversed.

Granted that this prosper thy neighbour approach is a long-term measure, it has worked in many other parts of the world. This is one of the ways the US government has used to reduce the influx of migrants from Mexico.

And in years past, Chinese nationals from the mainland used to risk their lives crossing the sea into Hong Kong in search of a better life. Now with a special economic zone established in Shenzhen in southern Guangdong province, the southward movement towards Hong Kong is no longer as pronounced as before.

The Malaysian leaders should be confident that in the long run, a peaceful and prosperous southern Philippines would help stop the perennial influx of illegal immigrants into Sabah and make consistent efforts to act accordingly.

Born, brought up and started journalism career in Sarawak, Joseph Leong Sai Ho has lived and worked in Sabah since 1966. His dream and mission is to see that the voice of the peoples of these two Malaysian entities on Borneo Island is heard and heard clearly.


Post a Comment

Important - The views expressed and the links provided on our comment pages are the personal views of individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sabah Report.