To go or not to go? Sabah’s marooned workers ignore balik kampung ban

Many are willing to pay steep fares in their rush to get home in time for the Hari Raya celebration.

KOTA KINABALU: Four young cousins board an express bus in Kota Kinabalu. It will carry them across the state to their home on the east coast.

These girls came to the big city two years ago, looking for work and a brighter future. It was all going well. They found work and an apartment to share near the 1Borneo Hypermall.

And then along came Covid-19 to put their jobs and dreams on hold.

Express bus operators were given the nod by Sabah state authorities to resume intercity services starting May 12, in time for Hari Raya.

But any joy was short lived.

The recent edict from Putrajaya limiting family visits to the first day of Raya only is causing heartache and driving many to flout the law.

Arnie Inda, 25, one of the cousins on the bus, was determined to go home this Hari Raya. Now the law says she must not stay there.

But she longs to see her parents and siblings in Lahad Datu. And the means to get there is now available.

Inanam Bus Terminal is the starting point for express buses running between KK and eastern parts of Sabah. Arnie explained her predicament to FMT there.

“I skipped Raya last year and worked through the holidays at my job in a pizza restaurant. It’s not fair if I can’t go home this year,” she said. “I would do anything to spend the holidays in my hometown.”

She said business is very slow at the pizza place due the MCO, so they gave her 12 days’ leave plus a half-month’s pay. Raya at home beckoned her, of course.

The four of them agreed to risk it.

So Arnie, Faridah, Fatimah and Siti left Inanam bus station on a Lahad Datu-bound express.

Express bus operators were given the nod by Sabah state authorities to resume intercity services starting May 12

Even though they live together they were not allowed to sit next to each other because of new safe seating rules.

The temporary closure of express bus services in the state caused many bus companies to incur losses. More losses are predicted due to the new procedure reducing the number of passengers from 41 to 20 on every inter-district bus.

The bus operators’ request to increase fares by 30% was rejected by the government but some fares have still gone up, as the girls found out when they had to pay RM100 each for their tickets, instead of the usual RM70.

A ticket seller confirmed what we had just witnessed – that passengers are willing to pay the higher fares in their rush to get home.

Thousands of Sabahans and migrants are expected to make their way home for the holidays despite concerns over spreading Covid-19.

Construction worker Jaidi Sisal, from Tawau, has already made his way back home. He had been stuck in Kota Kinabalu ever since the MCO was implemented on March 18, halting construction work.

“I was supposed to go home in early May but the express buses were not running so I couldn’t go,” he told FMT. “My wife is at home in Semporna waiting for me, so we can celebrate Raya together.”

Although the construction sector reopened recently, Jaidi was determined to see his wife. So he took the first available bus home to Semporna. FMT can confirm he is now with his wife.

Filipina migrant worker Lita Mustapa works in a spa at a popular mall in Kota Kinabalu. She told FMT she had to get to Semporna in order to get a boat back to her home in the southern Philippines.

“It was too risky to travel before because there were too many roadblocks and I don’t have documents.”

She has now gone too. FMT is trying to contact her to make sure she got home safely.

For so many ordinary people blindsided by Covid-19 and the MCO, the call of family and home is so strong at Raya that they are prepared to risk going and staying too long there.

FMT can confirm that the four cousins arrived home safely and are now preparing for Raya with their families.

They all intend to come back to work, but they can’t do that before they contravene the new law.

To go or not to go? How many ordinary Malaysians are now deemed to be breaking the law in order to balik kampung?

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