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Philippine Officials Inspect Malaysian Deportation Camps - 2002-09-02

Philippine officials are visiting Malaysia to inspect conditions at controversial deportation camps. Thousands of illegal Philippine migrants are in the camps waiting to be sent home under tough new immigration laws.

After several weeks of controversy over the treatment of illegal Philippine workers, President Gloria Arroyo spoke to Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad by telephone. She then announced that her adviser on Muslim affairs, Nur Jaafar, would lead a delegation to investigate what is happening in Malaysia.

"The events have brought in their wake serious controversies," said President Arroyo. "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."

President Arroyo says the problem of the deportees should be viewed from what she called the overall goodwill, friendship and mutual respect that characterize relations with Malaysia.

Mr. Jaafar says he is asking for deportations to be delayed until transportation issues can be worked out.

More than 64,000 Philippine undocumented workers and their families have returned home since the Malaysian government announced a crackdown on illegal migrants in the country four-months ago. An estimated 12,000 have been deported since the new laws went into effect August 1.

Three children died on the voyage home last week and many returnees complained of harsh conditions in the holding camps. The reports sparked demonstrations in Manila.

Several hundred thousand illegal workers from Indonesia have also returned home. Indonesia Red Cross official Johny Mamoedi says nearly 30,000 are in a camp on the Indonesia side of the border on Borneo Island and 30,000 are waiting in Malaysia to cross over. He says more than 60 people have died since they began returning in May, 27 of these during the past month.

"The situation is now worse because the shelter cannot accommodate all the people there, especially water," said Mr. Mamoedi.

Mr. Mamoedi said Red Cross workers are treating more than 100 patients a day, mostly for diarrhea. He says a hospital ship was sent Monday to strengthen healthcare efforts.

Malaysia announced the crackdown four months ago following violent protests by illegal workers and a rise in crime that was blamed on foreigners. The government passed new laws ordering up to six months in prison and six strokes of the cane to illegal immigrants arrested after August 1.