Accessibility links

Breaking News

Malaysian Deportees Arrive in Indonesia, Philippines - 2002-08-29

Illegal migrant workers deported from Malaysia continue to arrive in Indonesia and the Philippines, causing protests and criticism of the Malaysian government. More than 1,000 arrived in the southern Philippines, complaining of maltreatment during their ordeal.

The latest deportees arrived at Tawi Tawi Island on a Philippine navy ship, looking tired and dehydrated.

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo flew to the port city of Bongao and mingled with the group. She offered sympathy and listened to tales of suffering in the detention camps on Sabah, in eastern Malaysia.

The Philippine news media reported 13 children died from exposure during the night-long voyage from Sabah the day before, but the Philippine Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman told reporters three children had died.

The chief of Malaysia's Illegal Immigrant Task Force, Sidin Karim, called the deaths very unfortunate, but he told VOA that the deportees are being well treated in Malaysia. "Most of the grievances are not accurate and I think unfair, because as far as the Malaysian government is concerned, we give them adequate medical treatment when they are in our detention and we give them adequate food and water and other amenities," he said.

Officer Karim said the government was investigating the grievances.

An estimated 64,000 Philippine and 300,000 Indonesian illegal workers left Malaysia before the government began enforcing new laws on August 1. The laws call for six months in prison and six strokes of the cane for those convicted of being illegally in the country.

The head of disaster assistance for the Indonesian Red Cross, Johny Mamoedi, says 30,000 deportees are in camps near the border. But he says the situation is under control and the government has set up nine health posts for the returnees. "Generally they are in good health," he said. "However, because water is a problem, so some are having diarrhea, but [it is] not an outbreak. It still can [be] covered by the local health structure."

Mr. Mamoedi says in the past month, 20 deportees have died from disease at the camps.

The reports of the suffering of the deportees have brought a storm of criticism from human rights groups in the region. Demonstrators protested Wednesday at the Malaysian Embassy in Manila and the Philippine government filed a formal protest Tuesday.

Indonesian Vice-President Hamzah Haz has called for emotions to remain calm, but said communication is needed to resolve the issue.