Tuesday, March 19, 2013

'Crackdown fears' force Filipino workers to head home from Sabah

BONGAO, Tawi-tawi--- Exactly 18 days since the eruption of violence in Sabah, displaced Filipino workers have kept coming back home.
It was about 7:30pm when the Philippine Coast Guard ship named BRP EDSA docked at the pier of Bongao, carrying at least 233 people who were temporarily gathered by government authorities in Taganak, Sibutu town here.
The Crisis Management Committee Coordinating Center has already accounted more or less 3,160 displaced persons from the coodinating centers in Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-tawi.
Fear of 'Operasi'
Most of the people who came are undocumented laborers who have settled in Sabah. Some of them have stayed there for decades, raising their family in various towns where they found decent jobs.

One of them was Sahadail Pulong, 60, a laborer from Sandakan for 30 years. He came with his wife and two teenaged children who were both born in Sabah.

He said that he heard about the rumored 'operasi' (operation) against illegal workers in Sabah as retaliation for the deaths of some Malaysian state forces.

"Natakot kaming hulihin at ipakulong ng pulis doon kasi wala kaming 'pass'. Nagdesisyon na kaming buong pamilya na umalis na lang doon."

Herzalyn Haid, 19, had stayed in Sabah for 10 years. Fluent in Malaysian and Tausug, she revealed that there were rumors about a government crackdown on illegal workers.

"We did not wait for the time that the police will start looking for us in our homes. My husband and I decided to join the other workers who were able to contact a boat that would carry us to Sibutu," said Haid in Tausug dialect.

Income opportunity
All of the displaced persons came to Sabah to find jobs that would sustain their family. Some ended as manual laborers, farm workers and house helpers to wealthy Malaysian residents.

Rosalyn Saimuddin, 45, worked as a maid in Sandakan. She said that her modest income allowed her and her husband to feed their 13 children.

"Food is cheap in Sabah and our small wages can afford to raise even a big family. I don't know how to survive back here," she said. 
DSWD-Tawi-tawi Director Hania Aliakbar said that the government is doing its best to address the problems encountered by all displaced persons.

"We are working with various agencies on how to give them livelihood training so that they can find work in their respective communities," she said.

As the people were served hot meals by DSWD personnel and civilian volunteers, some of those who arrived gathered in a corner and hatched their own plan:
"Let us go back to Sabah to find work once everything has calmed down," said an old man to his friends.

While there are no livelihood opportunities that could be offered to them, most of them will take the risks to come back to Sabah.

Herzalyn Haid, a resident of Sabah for 10 years,  is 4 months pregnant.
Rosalyn Saimuddin is proud of her treasures, her 13 children who are all born in Sabah.
The AFP Medical Team was deployed to help those who need medical attention.

A social worker attends to a day-old baby boy who was born during the journey from Sabah to Tawi-tawi.

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