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Philippine Delegation Heads to Malaysia to Discuss Migrant Treatment - 2002-09-03


A Philippine delegation is investigating allegations that Philippine migrants faced mistreatment as they were deported from Malaysia during a recent crackdown on illegal workers. Discussions between Philippine and Malaysian officials are aimed at easing the plight of the workers as they are sent home.

The delegation sent by the Philippines president began talks in Malaysia's Sabah state. The nine-member team inspected detention centers where workers claim they were abused.

Nur Jaffaar, who is the Philippine president's adviser on Muslim affairs, is leading the delegation from Manila. He calls for the deportation process to be simplified to ease the plight of the thousands of illegal workers.

There are three camps in Sabah state, on the island of Borneo to house the Philippine migrants. There also are camps on the Indonesian side of Borneo for Indonesian workers forced out of Malaysia.

Philippine officials are calling for additional exit points to be opened to ease the stress on the deportees.

Malaysia's relations with its neighbors have soured in recent weeks, after Kuala Lumpur began to expel hundreds of thousands of illegal workers, most of them from the Philippines and Indonesia.

Illegal migrants found in Malaysia face jail terms, fines, and caning, prompting protests from the international community over the severity of the punishments.

Hundreds of thousands of illegal workers have fled Malaysia, but they have few prospects for work in their impoverished countries.

Philippine and Indonesian officials say there have been several deaths among the tens of thousands of migrant workers housed in the makeshift camps.

Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has denied there has been any mistreatment. But Kuala Lumpur has halted deportations of Philippine workers while Manila's delegation is visiting.

Manila hopes for cooperation from Malaysia to avoid a humanitarian crisis in the camps.

But reports of human rights abuses are expected to keep tensions high, especially after several protest marches were held in Jakarta and Manila.

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