Don’t leave Bajau Laut in limbo as stateless, says Sabah DCM


Bajau Laut in Semporna-
Activist Mukmin Nantang of the Borneo Komrad group has been charged with sedition after posting videos of Bajau Laut evictions.

KUALA LUMPUR: The indigenous Bajau Laut ethnic community should not be deemed as stateless people since they have resided in Malaysia for centuries, says Sabah deputy chief minister Jeffrey Kitingan.

Kitingan said the community could not be left to fend for itself as their stateless status has impeded their access to basic essential services like healthcare and education.

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Jeffrey Kitingan.

“They cannot be neither here nor there. The Bajau Laut have lived, resided and worked in the region just like the other tens of dozens of ethnic groups in the state. We should not and cannot deny their existence as bona fide residents of Sabah.

“They are not citizens of Indonesia or the Philippines,” he said at a discussion on the Bajau Laut in Semporna held at the German ambassador’s residence on Jalan Langgak Golf here.

Warisan president Shafie Apdal, who is the MP for Semporna, said the estimated 100,000 Bajau Laut in Sabah were part and parcel of the naturalised ethnic groups in the Bornean state, despite many of them not possessing identity documents.

Both Shafie and Kitingan said the government must make a serious effort to issue proper identity papers.

“We can start by authenticating their residential status with input from the village heads, who can vouch for them, just like it is done with all other ethnic groups in Peninsular Malaysia, Sarawak and Sabah.

“With proper identification, especially birth certificates for newborns, the Bajau Laut can then somewhat legally live their lives peacefully and enjoy the benefits meant for permanent residents or citizens,” said Shafie, a former Sabah chief minister.

He said he was well aware of the community’s predicament as he had Bajau Laut blood through his uncle, Sakaran Dandai, a former Sabah governor

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Shafie Apdal.

Shafie said the Bajau Laut were not outsiders or foreigners but had been born and bred in Sabah, with many of their ancestors contributing to the state’s social and economic development.

“Some of the Bajau Laut travel by sea as far as Sandakan, Kudat and Kota Kinabalu to ply their trade. We should not drive them away inhumanely out to sea, as they are not accepted by other neighbouring countries.

“We should show compassion in our own backyard rather than attempt to assist foreign refugees overseas like in Gaza,” said the seven-term Semporna MP.

The plight of the Bajau Laut came to the spotlight again recently after 138 illegal settlements set up by the community were torn down earlier this month, in an operation that apparently targeted those living on seven islands in the region.

Several videos of the evictions had gone viral, with enforcement officers seen demolishing and burning the homes to drive the villagers out.

Sabah tourism, culture and environment minister Christina Liew said the operation was carried out because of safety concerns following a shooting incident in Teluk Darvel and cross-border criminal activities in the area.

German envoy sounds a warning

The German ambassador to Malaysia, Peter Blomeyer, said the hindrances faced by the Bajau Laut in accessing health and education services, as well as jobs, had consequences on the region’s environment.

Free Malaysia Today
Peter Blomeyer.

He said legally denying someone access to social participation via assimilation and naturalisation would force them to engage in illegal activities for survival.

“There is a need to overcome ignorance, reservations and prejudices as it will eventually backfire on society as we become responsible for their actions,” Blomeyer said, citing the recent evictions.

Separately, Kitingan urged the authorities, especially at the federal level, to tap the expertise of the Bajau Laut, who are known to be proficient and able fishermen, divers and sea-farers.

Kitingan, who is the state agriculture, fisheries and food industry minister, said the community could particularly fill the need for manpower in marine-farming industries like fish breeding and seaweed cultivation.

“Additionally, they can be used to rejuvenate the thriving but threatened marine life, like corals, by removing hordes of plastic garbage dumped at sea and fish-bombing.

“A proper development plan should be devised to relocate them to proper mainland coastal-villages – complete with amenities for housing, healthcare, education and skills training – to ensure their socio-economic wellbeing,” he said. - FMT

Don’t leave Bajau Laut in limbo as stateless, says Sabah DCM