Nearly 400 Filipino deportees sent back from Sabah by the Malaysian government has arrived in the Philippines, the first of almost 5,300 set to be repatriated for staying in Sabah illegally.
There are almost 500,000 Filipinos living in Malaysia in 2011 but only 325,089 of them were documented, according to the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs data.
Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD)information officer, Ivan Eric Salvador said the group of 394 was the first of 14 batches, totalling 5,300 people that will be arriving over the next two weeks.
Salvador said 306 Tawi-Tawi residents of the 394 disembarked the MV Antonia at Bongao on Saturday while the remaining 88 proceeded to Zamboanga City before heading to their hometowns on Sunday.
Salvador said a government team of doctors, quarantine officers and social workers were assisting the deportees and checking on their health.
But Mohammad Asnin Pendatun, Cabinet secretary of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and spokesperson of the Bangsamoro Inter-Agency Task Force on COVID-19, said Malaysia had assured them that the deportees underwent antigen testing before their deportation.
“They have already undergone testing and they all tested negative,” Pendatun said, adding that the Bangsamoro government had been preparing for the arrival of the deportees, including a composite team from the DSWD, the Department of Health and Bureau of Quarantine.
It was the largest deportation of Filipinos from Sabah since 64,000 undocumented Filipinos were repatriated in a major crackdown in 2002.
Pendatun added that the figure of 5,000 expected deportees was only a conservative estimate.
Because of the porous border, Filipinos from Mindanao, mostly Moros, travel in and out of Sabah with little issue until JamalulKiram III, a scion of the Sultanate of Sulu, which claims sovereignty over Sabah, staged a failed raid in LahadDatu, Sabah, in 2013.
In 2015, the Malaysian state news agency Bernama reported that 78% of the 3,770 foreign inmates at Sabah prisons, or 2,940, were Filipinos, mostly serving sentences for drug offences.
The deportation of around 4,000 to 6,000 undocumented Filipinos each year started after the Lahad Datu raid as well as incidents of discrimination against Filipinos living in Malaysia, particularly Malaysian Tausug tribesmen called “Suluk” in Bahasa. (Source: INQUIRER.net)