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Philippines, Malaysia Work to Reduce Tension over Deportation of Illegal Workers - 2002-08-31

The Philippines and Malaysia are working to reduce tensions over Kuala Lumpur's deportation of thousands of illegal workers. Indonesia, too, is concerned that thousands of workers have been forced out of Malaysia into camps in its territory. The Philippines will send a delegation to Kuala Lumpur to discuss the problem of thousands of migrant workers stranded in makeshift camps.

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo says she and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad reached an understanding over the deportation of thousands of illegal workers from Malaysia. The two spoke by telephone Friday.

Saturday, Mrs. Arroyo said she is sending a delegation to Kuala Lumpur on Monday. She hopes to ease the tensions stirred by the reported deaths of infants in camps holding illegal workers.

Malaysia has angered people in the Philippines and Indonesia in the past few weeks, after forcing out illegal immigrants. Those who remain face caning and prison.

There are reports of dozens of returning migrants dying, while languishing in camps in Indonesia.

On Friday, Mrs. Arroyo visited the Philippines' southernmost province, Tawi-Tawi. Thousands of Philippine workers have arrived there from nearby Malaysia Sabah state, complaining of mistreatment by Malaysian officials as they waited to return home. "I understand the emotions generated among our people, because of children having died in detention centers, the canings that are happening and other controversial events that have been covered profusely in the media," she said.

Still, Mrs. Arroyo calls for caution and a reasoned response. "I must ask for prudence, sobriety and reason among our people," president Arroyo said. "Malaysia is our ally in security, peace and development."

Manila has already lodged a formal diplomatic protest to Malaysia over the deaths of the infants.

Tensions over the issue are likely to simmer in both the Philippines and Indonesia. Hundreds of thousands of people from both countries work illegally in wealthy Malaysia, easing unemployment at home and sending cash back to their families.

In Indonesia's Kalimantan province on Borneo island, some 22,000 illegal workers are stranded in tents and government buildings. The Indonesian government says at least 27 migrants have died in the camps.