KOTA KINABALU: Two Filipino researchers told a conference in Kota Kinabalu, that the influx of migrants from Mindanao to Sabah was also encouraged by certain local politicians (Sabah) who hoped to be Sultan of Sulu.
The influx was also a response to the fall of the Muslim-led Usno and Berjaya Governments in Sabah, said Myfel Joseph Paluga and Andrea Malaya Ragragio from the Department of Social Science, University of the Philippines, Mindanao.
Speaking at the 10th International Malaysian Studies Conference, they said the migrants were supposedly war refugees.
“However, with arms and ammunition from Libya, they continued to head for Sabah,” the two were quoted as saying in the Daily Express.
“The aim was to change the demography, electoral patterns, and influence the democratic governance,” said the researchers.
They said the wave of evacuations (or bakwit in the local language) were considered a deliberate response to the series of reported “militarisation” of their villages in the southern Philippines.
Briefly, they said, the phrase “forced to flee” was too narrow to describe the migrants from Mindanao.
The researchers cited several examples: Bosnian Muslims did not flee. They were expelled from their homes on ethnic and religious grounds.
Again, countless numbers in Myanmar, Iraq and Ethiopia also did not flee. “They were forcibly moved by their governments for political and ethnic reasons,” said the researchers.
In Mindanao, there are cases where the displaced often left in small numbers to be less conspicuous, or where the displacement happened in a slow process over decades and so do not appear “suddenly and in large numbers”, they said.
There are also cases where people felt “obliged to leave” because of impending conflict or other disturbances.
“How critical is the coercive element (as in migration), as in being uprooted, to merit help?” asked the researchers in their paper presented at the conference.
The paper said there were proposals on expanding the definitions in Sabah to include those who migrate because of extreme poverty or for other economic reasons.
“The element of coercion is not clear in cases of economic migration,” the researchers cautioned.
They called for development programmes, generated by national and international agencies, as the most appropriate means of addressing economic migration.