Immigration DG: We were conducting census, not registering refugees

Immigration director-general Mustafar Ali (second from left) speaking to reporters in Kota Kinabalu today, accompanied by his senior officers including Sabah Immigration director Musa Sulaiman (second from right)

KOTA KINABALU: Immigration Department director-general Mustafar Ali today said that the department was merely conducting a census on the number of children belonging to IMM13 refugee card holders in Sabah and not carrying out new registrations.

Mustafar’s statement seems to contradict an earlier statement by Sabah Immigration director Musa Sulaiman who confirmed last Thursday that the department had resumed accepting new IMM13 applications for children of exisiting IMM13 holders who have birth certificates.

Following Musa’s statement, numerous politicians had criticised the move. SAPP president Yong Teck Lee said it was carried out without the public being informed about the matter.

Chief Minister Shafie Apdal, too, said he was taken by surprise as the re-issuance of the permits was never brought up during the state security council meeting, which he chaired recently.

Deputy Chief Minister Wilfred Madius Tangau also demanded answers on who had given the directive to register the children of IMM13 parents.

Mustafar said he had personally spoken to Shafie earlier today and also Deputy Home Minister Azis Jamman on the issue and explained what had actually transpired.

“We wanted to find how many of these children are around in order to address their rights such as in education, health and others.

“We are all aware these children need access to education. This is a United Nations concern, and that is why the Immigration Department is speaking to the state government and home ministry to ensure these rights are fulfilled.

“We are not talking about registration but a census. I have explained this directly to the chief minister through a phone call this morning and have confirmed with the state Immigration director that no IMM13 cards were issued,” Mustafar said today.

However, he was evasive when questioned about Musa’s earlier statement.

On Saturday, the Sabah Immigration Department issued a short statement saying the registration for the IMM13 had been suspended, two weeks after it began on Oct 1. No reason was given for the suspension.

Mustafar, however, said the department decided to stop the census after reports of people thronging its office in Wisma Dang Bandang here went viral.

“At that time it was not properly explained what we were doing… because of misconceptions, the people swarmed the office.

“The public thought we were doing a registration drive (for IMM13). When we identified the issue, we then stopped (the exercise),” he said.

Mustafar said further discussions would be held with the state government, home ministry and the National Security Council on whether the census will be continued.

“We are not talking about the issuance of any IMM13 but how well we can address this issue in terms of the wellbeing of the children,” he added.