KOTA KINABALU: A group of sea nomads or Pelahu children are posing a "headache" for authorities as they beg and mess around with the facilities around the city centre.
The children, numbering about 30, have been rounded up and lectured about their activities but to no avail as some of their parents were also going about begging along the streets with authorities having little power or laws to act.
Commenting on recent viral photographs and video of the children bathing at a water fountain at the city's popular Gaya Street, Kota Kinabalu city mayor Datuk Nordin Siman said that the children have been rounded up many times in the past and were given counselling over their act.
"Their parents were also called in and told to watch their children's activities but they just get back to their begging after awhile," he said when contacted on Sunday (Feb 9).
It is understood that neither the state Welfare Department nor the Immigration Department can provide assistance or deport them as they are stateless.
“We are in a dilemma with handling the problem.
"They are not involved in crime or any criminal intimidation. The problem is more of a nuisance and gives our city a bad image. We are having a problem keeping them from misbehaving on our streets," he said.
"We have recorded the details of the children. They are about 30 of them who are loitering the streets, but it could be more," he added.
He said operations to round up the children were done regularly but the cycle of "catch and then release" was not solving the problem.
Nordin said that the sea nomad population has been slowly growing around the city since 2003 when state authorities acted against two families living under a bridge in Sembulan here.
They were sent back to the state’s east coast.
"We believe it is the same families and their number has been growing over time," he said, adding that most of them now lived in stilt houses at the Sembulan water village near town or Kg Pondo in Pulau Gaya off the city.
Nordin said based on a 2019 census, the city identified 399 adult Pelahus and 740 children in the city.
In the latest viral video of the children jumping into the fountain, he said they were there for three minutes and when city enforcement arrived, they had fled.
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.