Hotli Simanjuntak, Banda Aceh – Around 24,000 Acehnese who emigrated to Malaysia to escape the war and devastating 2004 tsunami face deportation, with Kuala Lumpur saying it will not extend their temporary stay permits.
Imam Syuja, a National Mandate Party legislator in Aceh, said Wednesday that provincial and central government should provide them with jobs and housing if their permits lapsed.
"They are Acehnese and Indonesian citizens, victims of conflict and the tsunami and deserving of humanitarian relief to re-integrate them into society so they can live normally," he said.
He explained the 24,000 were part of more than 30,600 Acehnese who emigrated to Malaysia following the conflict and tsunami. "Part have returned home after peace was restored," he said.
The Malaysian government gave two-year temporary stay permits to conflict and tsunami victims for humanitarian reasons and agreed to extend them after intensive lobbying by the Indonesian government in 2006.
Aceh Vice Governor Muhammad Nazar said that provincial government has lobbied the Malaysian government through the Foreign Ministry to re-extend the temporary stay permits until Indonesia was ready to receive the migrants back.
"We have to receive them and seek solutions for them if Malaysia decides not to extend their stay permits because they are Acehnese and Indonesian citizens," he said.
He called on Malaysia to make phased deportations to help avoid social problems and economic burdens for the Aceh government.
In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak said his government was to launch a massive operation to deport tens of thousands of Filipino and Indonesian illegal migrants from Borneo Island where they are blamed for drugs and crime.
"We are ready to launch a large-scale operation to flush out all illegal immigrants from the state of Sabah and deport them," he said, as quoted by AFP.
Najib, who did not make any specific statement on the Acehnese immigrants, said security would be improved along Malaysia's land and sea borders with the Philippines and Indonesia to prevent further illegal migration.
"The root cause of the problem is that the borders are very porous and traditionally local people do not recognize them. They move in and out according to economic opportunities in Sabah," he said.
Sandwiched by the Philippines in the north, and Indonesia's Kalimantan to the south, resource-rich Sabah is a magnet for migrant workers who for decades have come to work on building sites and oil palm plantations.
Sabah and neighbouring Sarawak state make up Malaysia's half of the vast island of Borneo, which is shared with Indonesia. Authorities say there are 130,000 illegal migrants in Sabah, but local politicians put the figure as high as 500,000.
Najib said that since the 1990s, at least 300,000 illegal migrants have been deported from Sabah. "We are prepared to do even more in the future. We have ascertained that this is a serious problem and the people in Sabah want action to be taken," he said.
Najib said Malaysian authorities will hold talks with their counterparts in the Philippines and Indonesia to organise the mass deportation.