(2 February 2002) DE

Kota Kinabalu: Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) has called for the suspension of the Zamboanga-Sandakan ferry services so that current coordinated efforts to reduce the number of illegal immigrants in the State are not defeated.

"This should be done as a means to make the Philippines cancel their requirement of a pass for returning Filipinos to the Philippines," its President Datuk Yong Teck Lee said in a statement, Friday.

He said the failure by the Philippines Government to speedily issue valid documents to their citizens to return to their country is suspicious and possibly a tactic to close their doors to repatriation of Filipinos to their home country.

Yong, who is also Gaya Member of Parliament, said following assurances that the "Ops Pasir" has prevented illegal immigrants from sneaking in undetected, it follows that any new arrivals could have come through the Philippine-operated regular service plying between Zamboanga and Sandakan.

"One way to estimate the number of Filipinos coming via the licensed ferry is to compare Immigration Department's arrival figure with the departure figures.

"If there is a net shortfall in departures, then it means that there are foreigners who might have destroyed their travel documents upon entering Sabah in order to avoid deportation," he said.

Yong said coinciding with the Philippines Government's refusal to accept back Filipino repatriates without valid documents, such a trend is worrying and would definitely and seriously affect the capacity of the Malaysian Government to detain and deport illegals.

Timmarine Sdn Bhd is operating the Sandakan-Zamboanga ferry services twice a week.

Three days ago, an express vessel MV Weesam Express was launched to ply the Sandakan-Zamboanga-Bongao route three times a week.

The vessel has a capacity of 240 passengers at any one time.

There had been concern that the ferry services meant to promote the BIMP-EAGA concept was instead becoming a one-way ticket for Filipinos, especially women ending up in nightspots in the State.

Last October, the Home Ministry said it was taking steps to check the growing abuse of tourist visa among ferry passengers into Sabah from neighbouring countries.

Its Deputy Minister Datuk Chor Chee Heung said there were 43,321 such visitors coming in via ferries using tourist visas.

However, it was found out that only slightly over 30,000 returned home, with the rest compounding the illegal immigrant problem.



Datuk Yong Teck Lee
Member of Parliament for P150 Gaya / State Assemblyman for N13 Likas






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