PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — Malaysia is set to launch a massive operation to deport tens of thousands of Filipino and Indonesian illegal migrants from Borneo island where they are blamed for drugs and crime.
“We are ready to launch a large-scale operation to flush out all illegal immigrants from the state of Sabah and deport them,” deputy prime minister Najib Razak told reporters.
Najib said authorities will also bolster security along Malaysia’s land and sea borders with the Philippines and Indonesia to prevent further illegal crossings.
“The root cause is because the borders are very porous and traditionally the people there do not recognise the borders. They move in and out due to economic opportunities in Sabah,” he said.
Sandwiched by the Philippines in the north, and Indonesia’s Kalimantan to the south, resource-rich Sabah is a magnet for immigrant workers who for decades have come to labor on construction sites and oil palm plantations.
Sabah and neighboring Sarawak state make up Malaysia’s half of the vast island of Borneo, which is shared with Indonesia.
Authorities say there are 130,000 illegal migrants in Sabah, but local politicians put the figure as high as 500,000.
Najib said that since the 1990s, at least 300,000 illegal migrants have been deported from Sabah.
“We are prepared to do even more in the future. We have ascertained that this is a serious problem and the people in Sabah want action to be taken,” he said.
Najib said Malaysian authorities will hold talks with their counterparts in the Philippines and Indonesia to organize the mass deportation.
The illegal settlers have been blamed for waves of drugs and crime, and local politicians say they are also tipping the ethnic balance against mostly Christian indigenous tribes who used to dominate the population.
Malaysia’s government has been on a drive to boost its standing in Sabah since March general elections that saw unprecedented gains by the opposition alliance led by former deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim.