Safe haven under a bridge Marooned gypsies to be given assistance

  • Nation
  • Wednesday, 19 Feb 2003

KOTA KINABALU: For several months, two ethnic Filipino sea gypsy families have found shelter under a bridge in the heart of Kota Kinabalu city. 

Motorists using the bridge on the Sembulan-Karamunsing coastal highway will hardly notice the two families of about 16 cooking, eating and sleeping underneath. 

Nearby, six more families comprising 30 members live on a trawler, marooned at the river-mouth near a golf resort. 

For the seafaring Bajaus, known locally as Pelahus and as Sama Dilaut in southern Philippines, life is harsh and their children often scrounge from the streets. 

Help came in the form of a police raid at their shelters yesterday. 

“We will be referring them to the Welfare Department so that they could be given assistance,” city police chief Asst Comm Hamdan Mohammed said. 

The families would be sent back to Semporna, in east Sabah, because they claimed they sailed from there. 

Pelahus are a group of sea nomads who have been plying the Sulu Sea between Sabah and the southern Philippines. 

Some hold Malaysian identification documents while others only have letters to state that they belong to the Pelahu community. 

Telling The Star in broken Bahasa Malaysia how they ended up under the bridge, Mizar Lasilani said their vessel capsized near Pulau Mengalum and they were forced to find food on land. 

“We had no money, no food and nowhere to sail without a boat,” he said, explaining that life would be better for them if only they could get back to sea. 

All they needed, he said, was to raise RM1,700 to buy enough wood to build their own boat and sail back to Semporna.  

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