KOTA KINABALU: A group of Pelahus or sea gypsies who have apparently wandered into the city from the coastal areas, are being rounded up by authorities amid concerns over social media about new squatters.
Kota Kinabalu City Hall enforcement, with Immigration and Rela officers, rounded up the 32 Pelahus squatting on land around the Sembulan water village and in suburban Inanam areas.
Kota Kinabalu Mayor Noorliza Awang Alip said 165 members of the Pelahu community had so far been detained under Ops Bangau that began on Thursday.
They will be held in a temporary shelter pending Covid-19 screening before being handed to the Immigration Department, she said.
“Operations will continue until Sunday, ” Noorliza said following a social media storm over the presence of the community in the city.
Pelahus are a nomadic seafaring community who move between the eastern Sabah sea border with the Philippines and Indonesia.
They are allowed by authorities to roam within those waters but not permitted to travel beyond such areas, including into mainland Sabah. In such a situation, they are considered as illegal immigrants or stateless people.
But over the years, some of the community members have settled down along coastal areas or on islands off Semporna and Lahad Datu while others have remained nomadic.
In recent years, their presence have been increasingly felt in the city, with children involved in begging from motorists while many are seen making makeshift cardboard shelters to stay in various parks and on city sidewalks.