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MALAYSIA – Sabah Migrants left out of food aid – let us help them, say NGOs

Durie Rainer Fong FREE MALAYSIA TODAY Sat, July 17, 2021

Villagers from a squatter colony who raised a white flag retrieving food items brought by Borneo Komrad Kota Kinabalu. (Borneo Komrad Kota Kinabalu pic)

KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah government has been urged to work with NGOs to help vulnerable groups, particularly undocumented migrants, who have been left out of the state’s food aid programme.

Movement restrictions have also complicated the efforts of NGOs like Sandakan-based Cahaya Society in helping vulnerable communities such as undocumented migrants, single mothers and the disabled, living in remote areas. Given the strong sentiments against undocumented migrants in Sabah, Cahaya Society’s Asrin Utong understands why the government may be hesitant in channelling aid to these communities.

One way around this, Asrin says, is for the government to work with NGOs which are already helping vulnerable communities on the ground.

Asrin’s group has been active in local and migrant communities, running alternative schools for children of stateless families and providing food assistance to those affected by the pandemic.

“We have the advantage as we have our databases. Our weakness is that we lack resources or funds,” says Asrin, a coordinator at the NGO.

“It’s a touchy issue because they are not voters. But what the government can do is work with NGOs through community development leaders or assemblymen.

“We can share our databases. There is no political mileage to claim now because what’s important is to ensure people don’t die from Covid-19 or starvation.”

Sabah Suhakam chief Jasmih Slamat had said the pandemic had opened the eyes of the authorities to issues like the need for documentation, noting that undocumented migrants have been among the hardest-hit because they are not eligible for government aid.

Suhakam commissioner Jerald Joseph said permit requirements in Sabah are also complicating NGOs’ efforts to move around the state and distribute aid to the needy.

Sabah Human Rights Centre president Sherzali Asli says many groups, including his, are ready to help the government help those in need at no cost, with their strong networks and expertise.

He believed the problem was that the government did not want to work with NGOs because it may make them look bad.

“But if the government is genuinely serious about going into the interior to help out with whatever aid, it has to make an effort to engage with the right NGOs. And the reality is there are many of us out there.” Borneo Komrad Kota Kinabalu coordinator Nurain Khoo said her group had been helping feed 100 undocumented migrant families in Teluk Layang, located behind a university in Likas, near here.

“The village is a squatter colony that is not recognised by the authorities. The only aid they get is from NGOs like us. That is if we can trace them because they move around very often,” she said.

Nurain said the situation had gotten from bad to worse for the undocumented communities because many of them, who had depended on daily wages, had no work during the lockdowns.

“Some have to ration their food supply, eating rice only a few times a week. There have also been some who cried, asking us for help. We can only afford to give what we have,” she said.

State local government and housing minister Masidi Manjun said the Sabah government, as a matter of policy, is only extending assistance to citizens but it had no objections if NGOs or individuals wanted to help undocumented migrants.


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