270 stateless families live in Sandakan landfill

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SANDAKAN: A landfill at Mile 8 near here has been home for some 270 poor and stateless families for around 30 years.

The landfill is the only place the undocumented families could turn to after they were deported to the Philippines but were later returned to Sabah.

They were sent back after remaining in that country’s detention centre for a year without anyone coming forward to fetch them.

Humanitarian volunteer Yunizam Yusop, 29, told FMT the families’ squatter area stretched about one kilometre long.

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The law enforcement authorities leave them alone on the landfill, but the stateless squatters dare not venture far away for fear of being detained where they may face deportation again.

“Most of the families have no documents,” said the Sandakan local. “Maybe some 20-30 people have the IMM13 (an identity document issued to Filipino refugees, whose new issuance was frozen in 2013) but maybe it has expired.

“They make a living by recycling things. They get RM2 to RM4 for their work.

“The oldest among them is about 80 years old and there are many kids. They’re very poor. They feed themselves by scavenging whatever leftovers they can find. They also take whole chickens which arrived bad at the market and are rejected by sellers.”

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Yunizam, his friends and some NGOs have chipped in by donating food and drinks before the start of Ramadan but their contributions are fast running out.

“We need to give more. I figure we need about RM1,500 to buy 300 packed meals for the families’ sahur and dinner during Ramadan.

“Some people want to contribute but they suspect our honesty. It’s okay. I can provide them with the documents to prove our sincerity. Tomorrow, I’ll start my fundraising campaign on Facebook.”

Some doctors volunteered their time to treat the stateless families while the UNHCR also helped with their hospital outpatient fees.

“Several doctors from the government hospital visited the landfill to carry out health checks and distribute vitamins and worm medicines.

“The UNHCR provided letters requesting discounts for the stateless families when they visited the government hospital for treatment,” Yunizam said.

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He feels that society can be more caring to help ease their hardship but honestly does not know how their plight can be resolved permanently.

“I hope more people will come forward to help these families. Some people question what I’m doing and say I should fend for my family first.

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“Sometimes, I think about how I can help end their plight for good but there’s only so much I can do. There’s no help from anywhere apart from some caring NGOs and friends.

“I’m doing this out of humanity. I know they’re not our fellow citizens but they’re our fellow human beings.”