ZAMBOANGA CITY, Zamboanga del Sur, Philippines — Malaysia has begun the deportation of more than 5,000 Filipinos from Sabah with the first batch of almost 400 arriving in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi, on Saturday.
Ivan Eric Salvador, information officer of the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s (DSWD) Zamboanga regional office, said the group of 394 was the first of 14 batches, totaling 5,300 people, that will be arriving over the next two weeks.
Salvador said 306 Tawi-Tawi residents of the 384 disembarked the MV Antonia at Bongao on Saturday while the remaining 88 proceeded to Zamboanga City before heading to their hometowns on Sunday.
Of the 88, Salvador said 12 were from Zamboanga City, 35 from Sulu, 13 from Basilan, eight from Zamboanga del Norte, five from Zamboanga del Sur, four from Zamboanga Sibugay and 11 from Cebu, General Santos, Davao, Bukidnon, Negros Occidental, Lanao del Sur, Bohol, La Union, Cavite and Siquijor.
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.
All tested negative
“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.
According to data from the Department of Foreign Affairs, there are almost 500,000 Filipinos living in Malaysia in 2011 but only 325,089 of them were documented.
Because of the porous border, Filipinos from Mindanao, mostly Moros, travel in and out of Sabah with little issue until Jamalul Kiram III, a scion of the Sultanate of Sulu, which claims sovereignty over Sabah, staged a failed raid in Lahad Datu, Sabah, in 2013.
In 2015, the Malaysian state news agency Bernama reported that 78 percent of the 3,770 foreign inmates at Sabah prisons, or 2,940, were Filipinos, mostly serving sentences for drug offenses.
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.
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