Government urged to solve the Bajau Laut identity issue, says analyst

Government urged to solve the Bajau Laut identity issue, says analyst
KOTA KINABALU: The government is urged to take the initiative to create awareness among the Bajau Laut ethnic communities in Sabah who has been living in a nomadic condition, of the importance of having a proper identification and a valid identity document.

Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) lecturer, Dr Zaini Othman said, the Bajau Laut, especially those living on the islands around Semporna does not have any valid documents to be recognized as a Malaysian citizen though have been living in Sabah for a long time .

"In the context where our country is developing and modern, there are still a large number of people who still have no information or awareness to register their child in obtaining proper documents.

"Awareness for them to obtain legal documents is still low or none at all. That is the situation with the Bajau Laut community currently.
"A small number of them are still living a nomadic life. So they have no consciousness.

"This is where the leaders should play an important role. True that they have to live from hand to mouth, but if there is an awareness created by the leaders in helping and uplifting the status of this ethnic, then this is the most important thing to do," said Zaini Astro to Astro AWANI.

sea gypsies, bajau laut, semporna
The Bajau Laut community originally came from Philippines and continued to stay in Sabah before the formation of Malaysia 50 years ago.

"From the point of culture and history, the Bajau Laut people will say that they are not illegal because they were already there before the formation of Malaysia. That's their argument.

"However, according to state law, if they have no valid documents, they are considered as illegal residents," Zaini added, who is also a political analyst .

Historically, the Muslim community in the Philippines migrated to Sabah during the Moro resistance movement against the Philippine’s government in the late 1970s that led to a war.

Dr Zaini in his opinion said, in terms of culture, The Bajau Laut is considered as Sabahan but unfortunately, they have no valid documentation to prove their citizenship.

"In that context, it is a clash between law and culture. In terms of the law, if a person does not own any legal document then that person is considered to be illegal immigrants even though they were born and raised in Malaysia. So it can be concluded here that they are the undocumented ‘rakyat’," he said.

Dr Zaini added this is where the Bajau Laut community leaders should step in and take note in solving this problem.

"The Bajau Laut community has their own leaders. They should take the initiative to explain this matter and help their own community," Zaini said.

He also hopes the government can play an important role in the welfare and development as the majority of the Bajau Laut is still living in a nomadic life where there is no permanent settlement.