|by EILEEN ENG / AP WRITER /KUALA LUMPUR||Friday, June 27, 2008|
An international rights group urged Malaysia on Friday to revise its plan to chase out tens of thousands of Filipino and Indonesian illegal immigrants amid concerns it may lead to human rights violations.
Amnesty International Malaysia said the immigrants include a large number of asylum seekers and refugees who had fled from the conflict-ridden Mindanao region in the southern Philippines to Malaysia’s eastern Sabah state on Borneo island.
In addition, many are stateless people and migrants who had lived in Sabah for more than a decade, including children who now risk being expelled.
“We fear that the simplistic and arbitrary action of mass crackdown by the federal government in addressing such a serious and complex issue will elevate the ongoing human rights and humanitarian concerns in Sabah and the region to a serious crisis level,” it said in a statement.
“We are of the opinion that the federal government’s unilateral action may result in serious human rights violations.”
Amnesty cited concerns such as cruel treatment of detainees, punishment including flogging under immigration laws, and lack of adequate health care in detention for women, children and other vulnerable groups.
In 2002, it said reports indicated that mass deportations of undocumented migrants led to deaths of children due to dehydration and disease in Sabah’s detention centers.
Amnesty urged the government to study the migrant issue in Sabah carefully before taking any action.
Government officials were not immediately available for comment.
Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak announced Tuesday that authorities will soon launch a massive operation to flush out and deport foreigners without travel or identification documents from Sabah, which borders both the Philippines and Indonesia.
Authorities estimated there are some 130,000 illegals in Sabah. But the state’s politicians insist the real figure is several times that, and claim that foreigners outnumber Malaysians in some provinces.
The issue has long been a bitter grievance for Sabah politicians, who accuse the federal government of failing to oust job-seeking foreigners after their permits expire.
In its last crackdown in 2005, the government deported 300,000 illegal immigrants, mostly Indonesians, from Sabah.
Indonesian officials have expressed concerns that the new expulsion plan could lead to a demand for workers in Sabah’s timber and plantation industries, which will again encourage the return of illegal immigrants.