Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Nazri Abdul Aziz denies allegations that foreigners were issued Malaysian citizenship.
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Nazri Abdul Aziz said that all the refugees totalling 81,000 are still holding IMM13 document, which allows them to move around freely as well as to seek employment.
Nazri said this in Parliament when replying to a supplementary question by Tawau MP Chua Soon Bui who asked how many refugees in Sabah had been given Malaysian citizenship since 1970s and under what rules and regulations were they approved.
Nazri, in his earlier reply to Putatan MP Marcus Mojigoh, revealed that the Sabah Immigration Department had issued 81,000 IMM13 documents to refugees from the southern Philippines and Indonesia in 2009.
IMM13 was also issued to children of refugees, who are above 13 years old.
“IMM13 was not issued to illegal immigrants,” Nazri said.
He said that there are now six refugee camps in Sabah which were set up by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and they are located in Tawau, Semporna, Sandakan, Kota Kinabalu and Labuan.
Chua, who is also Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) vice-president, challenged the figures given by Nazri.
Calling them “misleading and confusing”, she said that four decades had passed since the UNHCR set up the refugee camps for the 60,000 refugees in Sabah.
She based her argument on the fact that thousands of the refugees, their children and even grandchildren had started families of their own and their population should now have exceeded 100,000.
“Many of their children have married… many are second and third generation refugees.
“The figures are grossly underestimated and very suspicious since many of them have moved out from the UNHCR camps, especially in Tawau,” she said.
Chua urged the government to formulate a clearer policy on refugees in view of the presence of the tens of thousands of refugees in Sabah and the planned exchange of refugees with Australia.
The question of the actual number of refugees and illegal immigrants in the state has never been clearly determined since Umno expanded to Sabah in the early 1990s to overthrow the then non-Barisan Nasional state government.
Umno’s elaborate scheme
Accusations that the federal government has issued Malaysian citizenship to foreign immigrants and the long-staying refugees surfaced when politicians and observers questioned the ease with which the BN subsequently won elections even in areas not known to be its strongholds.
An elaborate scheme identified as “Project IC” or “Project M” was exposed about the same time as a method by which new voters were recruited from among the thousands of illegal immigrants and refugees to help sway elections.
“Project M” is said to have been the brainchild of former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad to permanently alter the demography of Sabah and to ensure that the state becomes a “fixed deposit” for the BN in any election.
The covert operations by the government in issuing Malaysian citizenship to refugees and immigrants was exposed when their employers discovered that the IMM13 documents they used to produce and to verify their status were replaced by MyKads.
In November 2010, Nazri gave the same answer to Chua in Parliament, saying that the records of Sabah Immigration Department till Dec 31, 2009, showed that a total of 81,000 IMM13 documents had been issued to two groups of foreigners who came to Sabah as early as 1963.
The two groups were Indonesian Chinese refugees who fled Indonesia during the reign of president Sukarno and the war refugees from the Southern Philippines who entered Sabah between 1972 and 1984.
Nazri said the government had issued an order under the Passport (Exemption) No. 2 (Amendment) 1972 Act dated September 1972 to allow these groups to continue staying in Sabah.
The Sabah Immigration Department then issued IMM13 documents to these people to differentiate them from the thousands of foreign workers and illegal immigrants in the state.
IMM13 pass renewable
Holders are required to renew the IMM13 to continue their stay in Sabah as long as the condition in their countries of origin does not allow them to be sent home.
The IMM13 holders are allowed to work in business, construction, services, transport and other suitable sectors, but they are not allowed to enter the public service sector.
These groups are also eligible to receive education and medical services at the discretion of the relevant authorities.
Nazri also said that even though they were given the IMM13 documents between 1972 and 1984, this did not mean that they had not come after 1984.
“Maybe more had come after 1984, but they were not issued IMM13 after 1984.
“I am not saying that after that there were no more refugees who came to Malaysia… maybe there were but those who came after 1984 have not been issued the IMM13 document,” he said.
Nazri also said the government had yet to decide whether to send these refugees back to the Southern Philippines, given that efforts to bring both sides in the civil war to the negotiating table is still in progress.
“If we send the refugees back to the southern Philippines, we are going to face strong objections from the United Nations as the war is still on there. If we send them back there, it will mean sending them to be killed in their homeland.”