con·tem·po·rar·y - Modern times in its generic sense, living, occurring, or existing, at the same time; often also used as a synonym for "modern" Ma·lay·sia - A country of southeast Asia consisting of the southern Malay Peninsula and the northern part of the island of Borneo.

I am really not sure how is the PTI in Sabah is going to be solved, once and for all..

May God bless and help the people of Sabah, Amen..


Kota Kinabalu: Filipina Daliat Tabun, 57, has spent more years of her life in Sabah than in her village of Ubian in Tawi-Tawi province in her Philippine homeland, but has no regrets about it.

She set foot on Sabah soil about 30 years ago, having fled the civil war in Mindanao, and fell in love with the Land Below the Wind which she found to be "a land of opportunity".

Today, Daliat is more than an ordinary foreign visitor in Sabah. She is a "very special foreigner" in Sabah by virtue of being the holder of the IMM13 document.

The IMM13 document is a special pass issued by the Immigration Department to genuine Filipino refugees displaced by the war in Mindanao to enable them to stay in Sabah.

Daliat is also on the threshold of acquiring permanent resident (PR) status after having been in Sabah for three decades.

"I consider myself lucky because I was given the privilege to possess the IMM13 document. This was my dream and the dream of thousands of Filipino refugees in Sabah," she said when met at the Telipok Refugee Resettlement Camp located about 20km from here.

The Telipok camp and three other settlements in the State - in Kinarut, Tawau and Sandakan - were established by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for refugees of the war between the Philippine government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in the early 1970's.

Having been in Sabah for three decades, Daliat has given up any intention of going back to her ancestral land even if given the chance to do so.

"Who wants to go back to Tawi-Tawi? We do not have anything anymore in Tawi-Tawi. What is left for us to cherish is the sweet memory while we were young in Tawi-Tawi," said the mother of seven children. Daliat had married her childhood sweetheart in Tawi-Tawi whom she just calls Husin.

Her 24-year-old son Najir, who was sitting beside her, butted in: "I'm not Filipino tuan (Sir)...saya orang Sabah bah saya lahir sini (I'm Sabahan because I was born here)."

Najir, a school dropout and an ardent fan of the popular Malaysian singer Datuk Siti Nurhaliza, is unemployed and helps his family at their grocery store at the camp. All of Daliat's children, aged between 14 and 32, were born and raised in Sabah.

"Our children were born in Malaysia but they too are only holders of the IMM13 document. Our fate is always at the mercy of the Immigration Department as we need to renew the document every year for a fee of RM90 each.

"This is our destiny as refugees. But what is bothering us now is the upcoming large-scale operation to flush out illegal immigrants, including those from the Philippines," she said.

Although the massive operation is for now targeting illegal immigrants, Filipinos holding the IMM13 document are worried about their future, all the same.

"Today, we are lucky the Malaysian Government only wants to flush out illegal immigrants. Tomorrow, it could be a different story. We don't know, exactly, the Government's next course of action. Our future is actually hanging in the balance," she said.

Last week, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said the operation to repatriate between 100,000 and 150,000 illegal immigrants in Sabah would start in August, and it would begin in the West Coast of the State before moving towards the East Coast.

Daliat's worries stem from the fact that the granting of the IMM13 document is only a temporary respite, especially for those displaced by the war in the southern Philippines, with the condition that they would go back to their country of origin when the situation there returns to normalcy.

Her family's predicament is just the tip of the iceberg. Thousands of other Filipino refugees, who are in possession of the IMM13 document and live in different resettlement camps throughout Sabah, are hoping for a change of fortune.

Locals and State leaders alike are wondering how their life will be by 2020 when Malaysia attains developed nation status.

Politicians, including leaders from the component parties of the ruling State coalition and State opposition parties, have voiced their concern on the matter, with some capitalising on the issue of illegal immigrants and the IMM13 document to criticise the Federal Government, saying "there is no such thing as permanent refugees as the situation in the southern Philippines has returned to normalcy."

These politicians hope the Federal Government, especially the Immigration Department, will rectify the anomaly pertaining to the position of the IMM13 document holders in Sabah.

In fact, there was a proposal to consider the possibility of giving permanent resident (PR) status to this group of refugees. For example, Minister in the Prime Ministers Department Datuk Seri Mohamad Nazri Abdul Aziz announced on June 26 last year that the Federal Government planned to issue PR status to the 10,000 to 15,000 refugees in the State.

However, the Sabah Government dismissed the Federal proposal outright, asserting that the State Government and the local people alike should have been consulted before a decision was made on the issue.

On May 28 this year, Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman said it was estimated that there were 440,000 foreigners in Sabah, of which 230,000 were legal migrant workers and 130,000 illegal immigrants and the rest Filipino refugees.

This underscores the seriousness of the illegal immigrant problem as well as the need to have a clear strategic plan, especially with regard to the future of the Filipino refugees in Sabah.

Local political analyst Clarence Sinsua said the Government should set a time frame for resolution of the problem of the IMM13 holders and decide "what is best for this group of people once and for all".

He said the Government, in the past, had set a time frame for resolution of the problem of the Vietnamese refugees in Peninsular Malaysia and then closed their resettlement camp on Bidong Island off Terengganu.

"I don't see any reason why the Federal Government cannot do the same in Sabah. Well, locals understand their plight and some of the Filipino refugees have assimilated into the local community in Sabah. But the people of Sabah are eager to see a lasting solution to this perennial problem," he said.

Sinsua said ironically when people talk about the refugees, it was rarely in positive terms and this could be linked to the steady increase of crime and other social problems, such as overcrowding in hospitals, poverty, stateless children and fake identity cards.

"But we must bear in mind that Filipino refugees are human beings, too, who deserve fair treatment because most of them came here to look for a job and earn a living," he said.

He said the number of illiterate children of Filipino refugees is very high and warranted more attention from the Government, not to mention the "role of Filipino refugees" in the political arena, especially phantom voters, as alleged by the opposition political parties.

A recent thesis of the Asian Centre For Journalism (ACFJ) at Ateneo De Manila University on Filipino refugees in Sabah cited some of the reasons for the refugee children failing to enrol at school as having no proper documents or Malaysian identity card, financial problems and lack of awareness among parents on the importance of education.

For them, it is pointless to pursue an education and they would rather work at the earliest age to earn some money for the family. In this respect, their parents should be totally blamed as they themselves are illiterate and attuned to a culture of complacency - just to survive.

Consumers Association of Sabah (Cash) President Datuk Patrick Sindu said unlike the illegal immigrants problem, the issue of the Filipino refugees was not easy to resolve.

He said it needed the full commitment of Malaysia's Federal Government via a direct link or negotiation between the Malaysian and the Philippine governments.

He suggested that the State Government conduct a thorough filtering exercise in determining the status of all Filipino refugees in the State.

For now, Filipino refugees holding the IMM13 document are enjoying their stay untouched in Sabah but, surely, somewhere in the recesses of their mind they would have that dream of catching a glimpse of the wonderland of Tawi-Tawi, the home of their ancestors.