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KOTA KINABALU: As the threat of being caught looms over their head, many illegal immigrants in Sabah have started to desert their squatter homes to places they consider safe from the arms of the law.
Some of them from the city are making their way to Tawau or Sandakan, from where they hope to make their way home when the operations get hot.
Others just do not have any place to go, as they either have no money or their children are local-born.
Many of the immigrants, mostly Filipinos and Indonesians, have stopped working but are staying put to see what sort of action would be imposed when the massive crackdown starts tomorrow.
The Immigration department had declared that when it begins the nationwide hunt, no one would be spared.
Department enforcement director Datuk Ishak Mohamed had said on Saturday they would nab illegal workers and those who employ them when the enforcers start their raids.
An Indonesian worker said he and some others could not return to their country as they were waiting for their wages.
Without money we cannot go back home, said the man, whose work permit expires in two weeks.
Another Indonesian, a grass-cutter with a social visit pass, said he had sent back his family to Sulawesi but he was staying on until his visit pass expires.
Holding an IMM13 immigration pass issued to Filipino refugees in the 1970s, a Suluk street vendor said he and his family of six children were afraid that they might be detained if their documents were declared invalid.
My children were born here, but I only obtained this document (IMM13) a year ago, said the vendor who, like the others, preferred anonymity.
Filipinos and Indonesians make up the largest number of illegal immigrants in Sabah where they worked mainly in plantations and construction sites.
Their official registered figure was about 200,000 in the state but the unofficial estimate was many times more.
Asked whether the enforcement squads were well-prepared to round up the illegals, Sabah Rela director Asst Comm Abdul Mutalib Hashim said: We have moved into various areas. Our plan is carry out the operations in stages, when we have identified the areas housing the illegal immigrants.
Mutalib admitted that a full-scale operation against the illegals in Sabah was difficult because the state only had three detention centres.
Thats why we have to carry out the operations in phases, he said.
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