Sea gypsies rounded up after wandering into Kota Kinabalu

Some of the sea gypsies being rounded by the Kota Kinabalu City Hall during an operations with Immigration and Rela.

KOTA KINABALU: A group of Pelahus or sea gypsies, who have apparently been living in the city here, has been rounded up by authorities amid concerns among the public about the squatter problem.

Kota Kinabalu City Hall enforcement, together with Immigration officers and Rela members, brought in the 32 Pelahus, who were squatting on land around the Sembulan water village near town as well as areas in the Inanam suburb.

Kota Kinabalu Mayor Noorliza Awang Alip said a total of 165 Pelahus have so far been detained under the joint Ops Bangau, which began on Thursday (March 4).

She said the detainees, including 24 babies, will be housed at temporary shelters pending a Covid-19 screening.

They would then be handed over to the Immigration Department for further action, she added.

"Our operations are continuing till March 7," she said on Friday (March 5) following a social media storm over the Pelahu presence in the city.

Pelahus are traditionally nomadic, moving about in eastern Sabah waters around the boundaries with Indonesia and the Philippines.

They are generally allowed by authorities to roam within those waters but are not permitted to travel beyond such areas, including to the Sabah mainland.

In such situations, they are considered illegal immigrants or stateless people by the authorities.

Over the years, some Pelahu communities have settled down on Sabah's islands or the coastal areas of Semporna and Lahad Datu, while others have remained nomadic.

In the past few years, however, their presence in Kota Kinabalu city has increased, with their children resorting to begging from motorists.

Some have also been seen setting up makeshift cardboard shelters in parks and along sidewalks, and local authorities have taken action against them from time to time.

The latest action follows a social media outcry over their presence in the water village in Sembulan, prompting former deputy chief minister and Api Api assemblyman Datuk Christina Liew to urge the state government to do something about the matter.

She said their makeshift shelters had sprung up in the open area near the Sembulan water village along the coastal highway.

"The problem has to be nipped in the bud as social problems could be triggered in the heart of the city," she added.

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