Aug 15: A local rights group has cautioned all quarters against rhetoric bordering on xenophobia with regards to the controversy over illegal immigrants in Sabah, saying the weak and oppressed among the migrant community could be victimised.

Referring to a spate of comments and demands surrounding the establishment of a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the problem of illegal immigrants in the state, Lawyers for Liberty noted with concern the repercussions such calls would have on the vulnerable people in Sabah including undocumented women and street children.

“In our endeavour to enquire into wrongful past practises, we must be mindful that these are generations of migrants and refugees with varying histories and circumstances, many of whom have permanently settled in Sabah, inter married, born or lived all their lives in the state,” said the group’s adviser Eric Paulsen in a statement.

STATELESS CHILDREN … The migrant community in Sabah has entered second generation who have known no other country as their home

Paulsen pointed out that many among the migrants had been living poverty and were exploited, but they were also unfairly blamed and targeted by politicians for social ills.

A spate of statements have been made by politicians particularly by those from Pakatan Rakyat, decrying the presence of large number of ‘immigrants’ in the state who they claim had been granted Malaysian citizenship years ago as a way of changing the state’s demographics to favour certain parties at elections.

Former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad however recently shot back at critics, defending the migrants and their children’s right to be granted Malaysian citizenship as they have been either living there for decades or are local-born, and have been naturalised both in local customs and language.

“By comparison we have many citizens who cannot speak the national language who were accepted as citizens. And we are still giving citizenship to foreigners who wish to be Malaysians on condition they have been living in this country for 10 out of the last 12 years, speak the national language and take the oath of allegiance to the country.

“So why cannot the migrants to Sabah who have all these qualifications be accepted as citizens? The objections for them being accepted seem to be political,” Mahathir wrote recently on his blog.

LFL meanwhile reiterated that it was not dismissing the far-reaching consequences of the issue, but warned that “citizenship and fundamental human rights of persons should not be sacrificed for the sake of political mileage or sensationalism”.

“Lawyers for Liberty therefore calls for all parties to remain level headed and not let prejudicial, racist or xenophobic sentiments to slant the enquiry which should be conducted objectively and based on all available evidence, testimonies and legal norms,” Paulsen added.

By HarakahDaily, 15 August 2012