Five decades later, Sabah continues to grapple with this refugee problem with the different state governments trying but failing to find a solution to the complex problem. Some estimate a third of Sabah’s nearly three million population are refugees or economic migrants with local communities feeling threatened.
Parti Warisan Sabah led by Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal and the Pakatan Harapan Federal Government are hoping to start the process of resolving the problem of “inland foreigners” through the issuance of the Sabah Temporary Pass (PSS).
They are aiming to use PSS to replace three cards – the IMM13 issued by the Immigration Department, Burung Burung card issued by the Chief Minister’s Department and Census certificate issued by the Federal Special Task Force (FSTF) over the years till 1990.
The move to introduce the single high-security card is also to weed out fake card holders.
However, PSS has become a hot button issue in the Kimanis by-election. Barisan Nasional and other parties aligned to it, including local based Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) and Sabah STAR are calling for PSS to be scrapped.
Their election pitch has been “a vote for the Opposition is a vote against PSS”.
Upko secretary-general Nelson Angang, who is among those going from kampung to kampung to explain the government’s stand, said PSS was an emotional issue.
“When we explain and they understand it, they are okay with it but some are just against PSS,” he said.
Nelson said there were those who were confused.
“They are mixing economic migrants with the refugee problem. We have to explain that PSS is for refugees who came before 1985. Any others who came after are considered illegal immigrants if they are not documented,” said Nelson.
He said illegal immigrants who were caught were charged in the Special Sessions Court for Immigration offenders and steps were taken to deport them.
PSS, he said, was to tackle the 49-year-old problem of refugees and their families who have three separate certificates which could be forged.
“With or without PSS, these people have remained in Sabah and the IMM13 holders have been renewing it over the years,” he said.
Nelson was among leaders from political parties who attended a recent round table discussion on the issue organised by the National Security Council, Immigration Department and Chief Minister’s Department.
He noted that the IMM13 issued by the Immigration Department was legal while Burung Burung and Census cards were not recognised.
“Some converted to the IMM13 but others did not apply for it,” he said, while agreeing with PBS president Datuk Seri Dr Maximus Ongkili that there was no legal recognition for the two cards.
However, he said the list of people who registered to get Burung Burung and Census certificates was recorded by the state government and FSTF under the National Security Council.
“So the question of new migrants claiming refugee status should not arise. They have to surrender their original IMM13 or the other two documents before PSS is issued” he said.
He added that Immigration would be acting against those who were holding fake registrations and PSS, with no uncertainty, could not be the basis for applicants to gain citizenship.
“IMM13 holders have been holding it for years, renewing it annually, they have not become citizens,” said Nelson, whose party is part of the Warisan-led state coalition government.
Meanwhile, Home Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who was also in Kimanis to explain PSS, detailed all its features and intentions.
The Opposition insists the move would dilute the demographics of the indigenous people of Sabah and will go ahead tomorrow to hold a protest against PSS in Membakut town.
Either way, PSS is among the key issues which will determine the winning candidate in this keenly contested straight fight between Warisan’s Datuk Karim Bujang and Barisan’s Datuk Mohamad Alamin.
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