KOTA KINABALU: Foreigners make up nearly a third of the people living in Sabah at any one time, according to official estimates.
The Malaysian Statistics Department’s figure for non-citizens is 1,158,300. Sabah’s total population is estimated at 3.9 million.
In Kinabatangan, the number of foreigners far exceed the number of locals because large oil palm plantations, spread throughout the district, usually employ workers from Indonesia and the Philippines.
But it is the districts of Tawau, Sandakan and Kota Kinabalu that record the highest numbers of foreign residents.
Sabah immigration director Musa Sulaiman, citing numbers given by federal authorities and figures separately compiled by his department, said about 70% of foreigners in the state are illegal immigrants.
“Of these illegal immigrants, about a third again are under the management of JKPWAS,” he said, referring to the Committee for Foreign Migrant Management, which is supervised by the Home Ministry and the Sabah government.
“Those put under the committee hold various documents they thought were valid. These include census cards, birth certificates, temporary residency cards and documents issued by the Chief Minister’s Department.”
Musa made his remarks in a seminar paper which was presented in his absence by Lily Surayani Raona, who heads his department’s strategic planning division.
He said the committee is also responsible for the management of stateless people, but he didn’t mention a number.
The table below provides a breakdown of the numbers managed by the committee. The asterisked figures are estimates.
Referring to illegal immigrants, Musa said some entered Sabah legally but became illegal when they overstayed.
“But the majority came through the numerous rat trails at the borders,” he said. “Others include those who were born to illegal immigrants and those who are dependents of pass holders.”
He said one of the difficulties involved in curbing the influx of illegal immigrants is having to contend with syndicates suspected of smuggling them in, mostly to work in oil palm plantations.
Moreover, he added, some of the illegal immigrants are protected by locals who either use them as cheap labour or simply pity them.
“The department has done, on average, four operations a day this year to find and arrest illegal immigrants as well as employers who flout the immigration law,” he said.
So far this year, Sabah has deported 10,074 illegals.
Musa described the task of cleaning Sabah of illegal immigrants as a huge responsibility that should be shared by all relevant parties, including federal agencies.
“However, we are trying our best through various initiatives, including conducting frequent joint operations with security enforcement teams, giving out residential passes, profiling illegal immigrants and carrying out rehiring programmes,” he said.