Sabah to consider placing refugees on border island, says CM

Sabah Chief Minister Shafie Apdal at the state legislative assembly building in Kota Kinabalu today. (Bernama pic)

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah Chief Minister Shafie Apdal says the state government is considering placing refugees on an island near the border in the event of an influx from neighbouring countries.

He said this would be done for humanitarian reasons, adding that while refugees are not considered illegal immigrants, they will not be sheltered on the mainland.

“In the 1970s, there was a civil war in the Philippines, so the United Nations (UN) played a role in helping the refugees and the Sabah government gazetted several areas for the UN.

“We should learn from the past. We will propose a temporary settlement, far from Sabah’s mainland, if there is an influx from neighbouring countries, whether the Philippines or Indonesia,” he told reporters at the state legislative assembly building today.

He said this would be done to “save the lives of people and families”.

“But they will not be allowed on the mainland,” he said, adding that they would not be placed on tourist islands like Sipadan or Mantanani, either.

He said placing them on an island was for security purposes and would allow the state government to monitor their movements.

“As I said in my answer (in the assembly sitting yesterday), the security authorities play a big role, such as in Pulau Bidong in Terengganu. It is the same concept,” he added.

The Senallang assemblyman said no talks would be needed with the Philippines or Indonesia on the matter.

“(As I said), this is for humanitarian reasons. We can’t let them die at sea, can we?”

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), working with the federal and Sabah governments, gave refuge to thousands of Filipinos who fled their country following the unrest in the 1970s.

The refugees were given a special stay pass known as IMM13.

There are a number of UNHCR refugee camps throughout the state, which have been the subject of dispute by those who blame them for social ills in Sabah.