Hundreds of Bajau Laut left without homes after demolition op in Semporna

KOTA KINABALU: Hundreds of Bajau Laut in Semporna district allegedly lost their homes after authorities reportedly demolished them.

According to local NGO Borneo Komrad, the demolition operation was carried out on Tuesday and Wednesday (June 4 and 5) where wooden stilt houses were torn down and burnt.

The occupants can be seen in videos crying with their children, some of them babies.

According to NGO founder Mukmin Nantang, the operation was carried out against the Bajau Laut community living on seven islands in Semporna, including Pulau Bohey Dulang, Pulau Maiga, Pulau Bodgaya, Pulau Sebangkat and Pulau Sibuan.

He said the demolition highlighted critical issues of racism, developmental injustice and statelessness in Sabah.

The Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) officials said the operation was under Sabah Parks.

However, Sabah Parks director Maklarin Lakim said the operation was under the Semporna district safety and security committee, while the areas involved were prohibited grounds under Esscom.

“Our minister will make a statement on this issue,” he added. Sabah Parks is under the state Tourism, Culture and Environment Ministry helmed by Datuk Christina Liew.

Human rights NGO Pusat KOMAS, meanwhile, said in a statement on Friday (June 7) that the Bajau Laut, who practise a nomadic lifestyle at sea and live in small boats or houses on stilts in coastal areas, faced systemic discrimination.

It said their forced removal raised serious questions about the equitable treatment of ethnic minorities in Malaysia.

“It is imperative to ensure that all communities are respected and protected under national and international human rights laws.

“We are deeply concerned by this (demolition and eviction). At its core, human rights laws establish that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,” it added.

It pointed out that Article 8 of the Federal Constitution provides for all citizens to be afforded equal protection under the law and that discrimination is prohibited based on religion, race, descent, place of birth, or gender.

"From whom did these authorities receive the mandate to carry out such violent destruction? They must be held accountable for the forced displacement of the Bajau Laut here," the NGO added.

It said the eviction, without adequate consultation or solutions for alternative housing, showed a failure to balance development with social justice.

It added that the citizenship status of many Bajau Laut people complicated their claim for legal rights and protection as many lacked proper identification documents.

This increased their vulnerability to eviction and other forms of disenfranchisement, Pusat KOMAS said.

Last year, it was reported that Suhakam received some 5,440 complaints from 2015 to 2020, with many cases involving citizenship issues in Sabah alone.

“Pusat KOMAS understands that this is a difficult and multifaceted issue. However, avoiding the issue is not the resolution our country needs,” it said.

It said the state and Federal government must face the issue head-on to prevent more generations of stateless children in Malaysia.

“Moving people out of their homes only moves the problem elsewhere, as opposed to solving it,” it added.

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