KUALA LUMPUR: Thousands of Filipinos are being deported from Malaysia as part of the Philippine government’s “gradual repatriation” programme.
Most of those deported in the past few weeks are from Mindanao, from where they had fled to Malaysia hoping to escape a life of poverty and war, according to a report in Al Jazeera.
For decades, the report said, Filipinos had been illegally crossing into Sabah in search of a better life. And for decades, Malaysia has been arresting and deporting undocumented Filipinos, it added.
In January, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported that more than 7,000 Filipinos in Sabah, who had been arrested by Malaysian authorities for their “undocumented migrant” status, would be deported beginning February.
It quoted Philippine Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo as saying the returning migrant workers would be given food, medical assistance and information about welfare services that were available to them.
Undocumented Filipinos in Sabah are being sent back following a deal between Prime Minister Najib Razak and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte last November when the latter visited Malaysia.
Najib had said Malaysian naval ships could be used to send the Filipinos back.
Meanwhile, The Rappler, of the Philipines, recently reported that 1,987 Filipinos had been deported from Sabah during the first quarter of 2017.
It quoted the Philippine Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) as saying 1,706 of them were back to their places of origin, mostly in Mindanao. The rest were being housed in the processing centre for displaced persons.
A bulk of the repatriates – 1,146 – came in March, while 430 were sent back to the country in February, and 411 were deported in January, it reported.
The problem, however, is that some of those deported often return to Sabah.
One deportee, Jessica Ali, told Al Jazeera: “Money is good in Sabah. Even with menial jobs, I earn. Not like in Sulu where I am from.” She had been travelling to Sabah illegally since she was four.
She has been deported several times. Last year, she was arrested while pregnant and gave birth in detention, the report said.
The Rappler, too, quoted the DSWD as saying the number of deportees continued to increase year by year because several Filipinos kept returning to Malaysia without proper documentation despite the interventions of the Philippine government.
According to the DSWD Field Office in the Zamboanga Peninsula, many recent deportees wish to return to Sabah, where their families have been left behind. Also, these deportees are not always able to find jobs in the Philippines, said The Rappler.