Press Statement

Implementation of the Sabah migration report must take a

rights-based, reasonable and realistic approach

4 December 2014

Lawyers for Liberty welcomes the release of the Report of the Commission of Enquiry on Immigrants in Sabah as a major step forward in tackling the thorny issue of migration in Sabah.

Although the report is short on recommendation, it is understandable in light of the complexity of the issues and Terms of Reference. Of particular concern is the finding that “it was more likely than not, that Project IC did exist” i.e. the systemic incorporation of irregular immigrants through dubious documentations and facilitating their access to become registered voters and possibly determine political outcomes in Sabah.

The seriousness of migration problems and in particular Project IC cannot be understated and we urge the authorities to take steps to implement the recommendation to set up a Permanent Secretariat and a Management Committee on Foreigners or Consultative Council on Immigrants/ Foreigners in order to further inquire and deliberate on the many pressing issues raised in the report.

However in doing so, we urge the authorities to be objective, take a rights-based, reasonable and realistic approach and not let prejudicial, populist or xenophobic sentiments cloud their judgement.

This is because there will be serious repercussions on the lives and human rights of some of the most vulnerable people in Sabah including undocumented women and street children of refugee/ migrant descent. Many live in poverty and a life of exploitation, unable to access basic social services but are also unfairly blamed and easily targeted by politicians for social ills in the state.

It goes without saying that all citizenship matters including grant of citizenship, identity documents and registration in the electoral roll must be conducted properly and in accordance with established laws, regulations and practises and not through corrupt practises, fraud or for improper political gains.

Standard operating procedures must be tightened to ensure that only those who are genuinely eligible can benefit from citizenship matters. Those who perpetrate or facilitate such illegal acts particularly government officials, local leaders, fixers and middle men, politicians and their workers must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

While the issues at stake are serious and have far reaching consequences, the citizenship and fundamental human rights of persons should not be discarded just because it may now be politically convenient to do so.

In our endeavour to enquire into wrongful past practises, we must be mindful these are generations of migrants and refugees with varying histories and circumstances, many of whom have permanently settled in Sabah, intermarried, born or lived all their lives in the state.

Consequently, these people may have properly acquired citizenship or permanent resident status and all the accompanying rights. They have a relevant and genuine link with Sabah/ Malaysia (through birth, habitual residence, descent, marriage or naturalisation) and rights under Malaysian and international law including not to be made stateless, freedom from arbitrary arrest/detention, torture, inhumane and other degrading treatment and right to life.

Released by:

Eric Paulsen
Executive Director
Lawyers for Liberty

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