Will ‘war refugees’ retain status in new pass, asks Kitingan

The home ministry plans to issue a special pass to 600,000 qualified foreigners in Sabah from next June. (Bernama pic)

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah opposition chief Jeffrey Kitingan has urged the federal government to clarify whether IMM13 visa-holders in Sabah would lose their status as “war refugees” when they are issued a new special pass beginning next June.

Kitingan, who is president of Parti Solidariti Tanah Airku (STAR), also urged that the government make known its long-term plans for holders of the special pass, which will replace IMM13 visas, the “kad burung-burung” issued by the Chief Minister’s Department, and the census certificate. About 600,000 foreigners will be affected.

Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin had announced yesterday that the Pas Sementara Sabah (Sabah Temporary Pass) would ease monitoring and enforcement activities on foreigners in the state.

Muhyiddin said officials faced difficulties in enforcing the law because of the different types of documents held by the foreigners.

Kitingan asked whether the special pass will change the status of the IMM13 holders. “Does this mean they are no longer refugees? And by giving them this special pass, does it mean they will not be sent home?” he asked.

Jeffrey Kitingan.

IMM13 visas were issued by the Immigration Department to Filipino refugees who entered Sabah between 1972 and 1984. Visa holders can work in Sabah and Labuan without having to apply for a work pass, go to school and receive medical services from the government.

Kitingan wondered if other holders of the special pass would also be allowed to work without first obtaining the proper work pass.

He noted that the government had not spelled out its plans on what to do with these people in the long term. Muhyiddin said yesterday that “the decision on what to do with these people will be made some time in the future” because several issues needed to be considered, such as the Immigration Act, the Federal Constitution, and the National Registration Act.

Kitingan urged the government to ensure that only qualified applicants are given the special pass. “There must be a mechanism to prevent illegal immigrants or unqualified migrants from getting their hands on the document,” he said.

Earlier this year, a National Registration Department director said the three categories of foreigners caused bigger problems, compared to illegal immigrants, as they are considered stateless and cannot be deported to their previous home countries.