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ARMM Braces For 200,000 Deportees

Cotabato City — The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao government is bracing for the eventual deportation of at least 200,000 undocumented Filipinos from Malaysia, mapping out short and long-term actions to cushion the adverse effects of the repatriation vis-à-vis the sensitive issue on the Philippines claim over Sabah, officials said Thursday.

Lawyer Laisa Alamia, regional executive secretary, said the ARMM’s Humanitarian Emergency Action and Response Team launched Tuesday a three-day ocular assessment in Tawi-Tawi where 1,113 deportees from Malaysia have been sheltered since last month alone.

Filipino evacuees, Sabah arrive, Lahad Datu, Manila Bulletin

BACK HOME — Filipino evacuees from Sabah arrive, in this file photo, at the port of the Tawi Tawi capital of Bongao, some 180 kms from the Malaysian town of Lahad Datu. ARMM officials have started bracing up for the eventual deportation of at least 200,000 undocumented Filipinos from Malaysia. (Ben Hajan)

She clarified that Malaysia’s crackdown on undocumented migrants also include other foreign nationals, though majority of them are Filipinos, particularly natives of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi who still deem the rich Sabah region as part of the Philippines or owned by the Sulu Sultanate.

Years back, Malaysian authorities had been deporting undocumented Filipinos by the dozens monthly through Tawi-Tawi, the southernmost island province that is a few hours travel by boat from Sabah.

But the exodus is now involving hundreds since armed followers of the Sulu Sultanate occupied Laha Datu in Sabah and fought Malaysian authorities in February last year, local welfare officials said.

The latest batch of deportees involving 198 persons arrived in Tawi-Tawi last week, bringing the number of refugees this year in Tawi-Tawi to 1,113, according to Alamia, who chairs the ARMM’s HEART.

Things worsened when the Maharlika Institute of Technology, a private school based in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi that housed hundreds of earlier deportees from Malaysia, “closed” its doors to fresh refugees, Alamia told the Bulletin by phone from the island province.

Alamia, a known human rights lawyer, said the provincial government of Tawi-Tawi has sought the assistance of the ARMM government after its social welfare funds have been depleted in the continuous influx of deportees, which Malaysian authorities called as halaw, a Bahasa term for undesirable.

Citing a conservative estimate, she said there are at least 200,000 undocumented Filipinos in Malaysia, especially in Sabah.

Tawi-Tawi officials led by Governor Nurbert Sahali and Rep. Ruby Sahali-Tan held a roundtable meeting with Alamia and other ARMM executives in Bongao on Wednesday and mapped out short and long-term solutions to the problem, ARMM Information Officer II Josephine Myrna Henry said.

One of the agreed on urgent actions is the construction in Tawi-Tawi of makeshift shelters for deportees and a one-stop center where representatives of government line agencies can process the repatriates for proper documentation, especially those opting to return to Malaysia for work, Henry said.