By ROGER CHIN
COMMENT: The Sabah Law Society [SLS] supports the bold and progressive initiative of the Federal and State Government of Sabah to introduce a Temporary Sabah Pass (PSS) to eligible foreigners holding existing documents as a step in the right direction towards regulating and eventually resolving the perennial issue of irregular / undocumented migrant problem in the State.
Based on the information available, the PSS is to enable the consolidation of all the previous passes into one single pass. One major advantage of this process is that it will enable a weeding out any of those previous passes such as IMM13, Surat Burung-Burung and the Census Card which were wrongly issued or forged.
The additional security features of PSS with biometrics, profile photograph and thumbprint will enhance the ability to regulate such persons in the State of Sabah.
The SLS firmly believes that if the State knows and is able to identify who the irregular / undocumented migrants are, then the State can manage law, order, security and resources more effectively.
In this respect, the process and criteria towards obtaining the PSS must be discussed with all relevant stakeholders in a transparent and accountable manner.
History has unfortunately revealed that certain unscrupulous parties have compromised national security and sovereignty by providing documents to migrants who were not entitled to receive them. Therefore robust and ironclad safeguards must be implemented so as to ensure that there is no compromise or abuse of the process in the issuance of the PSS by the relevant authority.
Secondly, the SLS would like to point out that issue of citizenship in Malaysia is provided for in the Federal Constitution. A foreigner cannot be granted Malaysian citizenship unless it is by operation of the law upon fulfilment of the strict requirements imposed. PSS ought not be construed as a grant of permanent residency or citizenship to a foreigner nor should it be exploited to be a stepping stone towards citizenship.
The SLS further notes that there are general concerns about the length of time of each renewal being three (3) years and whether it would be appropriate to reduce the renewal period to one (1) year.
The SLS recognises that migrant workers who commit crime in our country must be dealt with in accordance with the full force of the law. However in certain circumstances, many are criminalised only for the offence of not having proper documents allowing them to stay and work in Malaysia.
These migrant workers do play a significant role in the economy by embracing low-paid menial jobs that the locals in our nation shun. Malaysia has made an open pledge to ensure the humane treatment of undocumented / irregular migrants under international commitments.
The Bangkok Declaration on Irregular Migration in 1999 and more recently the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on Irregular Movement on Persons in Southeast Asia 2015 have, among other objectives, recognised that all migrant workers to be are granted humanitarian treatment.
In doing so, we must remind ourselves that basic human rights are to be accorded to all, especially children whose welfare must be protected in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, so that due process can take place in a manner that is meaningful in substance.
* Roger Chin is the President of Sabah Law Society