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Activists warn of street protests if Sabah, Putrajaya continue to ignore concern over Bajau Laut community’s eviction

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Publish date: Fri, 14 Jun 2024, 09:58 PM

KUALA LUMPUR, June 14 — Youth activist group Liga Rakyat Demokratik (LRD) and 125 other civil societies have today called on Sabah authorities to stop all demolition works on the remaining Bajau Laut community in Semporna.

The groups said authorities should look into the plight of the community, and warned that they make take to the streets if this issue is not resolved.

“We urge the government to investigate and take decisive action against the enforcement officers involved in this misuse of power, subjecting these vulnerable community in gross injustice,” LRD chairman Abdul Muqit Muhammad told a press conference here.

“Our next step is to start a petition against the demolition. We hope the government will seriously look into this. If all else fails, we are ready to march on the streets,” he added.

LRD said the operations of forcibly evicting, destroying and burning the homes of the Bajau Laut community on seven islands in the Tun Sakaran Marine Park surrounding Semporna in Sabah have affected more than 273 homes and over 1,500 people from the indigenous and marginalised communities.

“The rationale that these events are related to matters of national security and the expulsion of undocumented migrants is indefensible and cannot be accepted as legitimate when many of those affected possess valid identification documents and legal status as Malaysian citizens,” Abdul Muqit said.

LRD and the civil societies also urged the Home Ministry to establish a special committee to look into this problem which involves statelessness.

“We urge the government to at least set up a special committee across various government agencies and ministries, civil society and representatives from the affected communities to device a viable and humane long-term solution to prevent the recurrence of these incidents in the future,” he said.

Legal rights groups Lawyers of Liberty said the government should address the problem of statelessness that has been faced by the Bajau Laut community for decades.

“They have no documents yes, but they have been living on the sea for generations. There are laws, and the historically the border where they are located existed since before the Malaysia was formed,” its director Zaid Malek said.

“But what has happened is that the governments before and now has failed to address this issue of their statelessness. So of course they have no choice but to find means to survive and that includes building their own accommodation and setting up businesses and then they are being blamed.”

Youth-led social advocacy group Borneo Komrad similarly questioned the actions of the authorities who not only caused destruction, but in addition had “stolen” the Bajau Laut community’s belongings.

“We were told that the authorities took mangoes that the Bajau Laut settlers planted. They took about six to seven sacks, likely about 200kg,” said its activist Guiani.

“Who in this world would do such a thing, after you burn down people’s house you steal their belongings. Imagine the audacity of the authorities asking for salt to dip the mangoes while laughing.”

She added that the Bajau Laut community now has nowhere to go and they have resorted to sleeping in the jungle, in mangrove areas, while some are living in their demolished houses.

The eviction exercise, according to Borneo Komrad occurred between June 4 and 5, earned some criticism after videos showing the homes being demolished, some by plainclothes men, were spread on social media.

The Bajau Laut are a sea-faring community, many living offshore in wooden houseboats or huts built on stilts in and around Semporna island.

Their nomadic culture dates back centuries prior to sea borders and they have earned a reputation for their ability to hold their breaths underwater for extended periods to time.

Activists are calling for more humane treatment as the community, born at sea, have no identification documents or access to basic facilities such as education, financial or health services, making them vulnerable to deportation and any enforcement exercise.

The state government has since denied that any human rights violation in the eviction of hundreds of Bajau Laut people from the islands around Semporna which have recently caught international spotlight.

Tourism, Culture and Environment minister Datuk Christina Liew reportedly said that there was no violation of human rights but that her ministry officials were looking deeper into the incident that has sparked controversy.

 

https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2024/06/14/activists-warn-of-street-protests-if-sabah-putrajaya-continue-to-ignore-concern-over-bajau-laut-communitys-eviction/139801

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