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Philippines Files Formal Complaint Against Malaysia - 2002-08-27

The Philippines has filed a formal diplomatic complaint with Malaysia over alleged mistreatment of thousands of illegal Philippine migrants being rounded up and deported. Malaysia began enforcing new, tougher laws August 1, to crackdown on tens of thousands of illegal workers.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Blas Ople summoned Malaysia's ambassador in Manila Tuesday, and handed him a formal diplomatic protest.

The complaint alleges that thousands of illegal Philippine migrants have been subjected to harsh conditions in overcrowded deportation stations in the Malaysian State of Sabah.

Mr. Ople says many people have gone without food, water or sanitation, which has resulted in the deaths of at least three children.

Malaysia is deporting tens of thousands of migrants, mostly from the Philippines and Indonesia, as part of its crackdown on illegal workers. Some 60,000 Philippine citizens have returned home from Malaysia so far this year and about 4,000 more are awaiting deportation. Those who try to stay in Malaysia will now be subjected to large fines and punishments such as caning.

Victoriano Lecaros, spokesman for the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, says Mr. Ople received assurances from Malaysian officials last week that the deportation would be carried out in a "proper and humane" manner.

"There seems to be what you could call a gap between what was promised in Malaysia and the situation on the ground in Sabah," he said. "It is really just bringing it to their attention not so much to extract our pound of flesh, but to rectify the situation. It is like saying to your neighbor something that you are not doing is not good for the both of us."

Hundreds of thousands of people from the Philippines have migrated to Sabah over the past three decades, many of them refugees from the Muslim separatist conflict in the southern Philippines. Others have been attracted to work opportunities in the wealthier neighboring country.

Diplomatic ties between the two countries have not always been warm. Relations were strained in the 1970s over competing claims on Sabah and only normalized in the 1990s.

Despite the diplomatic protest, Philippine officials say both sides are trying to create new guidelines that would allow deported workers to return to Malaysia legally.

Malaysia's immigration crackdown has sparked protests in Indonesia Monday, where a group of demonstrators burned the Malaysian flag in Jakarta. Some Indonesian officials have also condemned Malaysia's methods as "inhumane."

Kuala Lumpur warned Malaysians to stay away from Indonesia because of possible anti-Malaysian sentiment over the new immigration laws.