Filipino refugees in Sabah

Filipino refugees in Sabah

Assessment for each PPG

Current Situation and Achievements to date

In 1987, UNHCR phased out its 10 year operation in Sabah when the situation of Filipino refugees was considered at par with that of the local Sabahans. At the time of exit, the Malaysian Government had begun issuing the Filipino refugees with the IMM13, a temporary residence and work permit, and thereby took on a greater protection responsibility towards the caseload. Nevertheless, the standard of living for many Filipino refugees remains below the poverty line.

Recent monitoring missions to Sabah show a worsening in the living conditions of this community. Filipino refugees and their children who grow up in Sabah without documentation have limited or no access to basic social services or to legal employment. The lack of consistency in both types of identity documentation issued to the Filipino refugees, and application of procedures for obtaining these documents, severely hampers their integration into the Sabahan community.

Owing to their lack of income generation or employment opportunities, many Filipino refugees have only limited or no access to clean water and electricity. In order to survive, they are engaged in very low level paying jobs that locals are not keen to do. The Filipino refugees who have not acquired permanent residence status or citizenship continue to experience a myriad of problems deriving from their lack of proper documentation, including limited or no access to education, family planning, sanitation, health care and sometimes even birth registration.

By the end of 2014, as one of the protection challenges, which many Muslim Filipino refugees is facing is on lack of documentation, UNHCR Malaysia, in cooperation with UNICEF, plans to support/engage a local NGO to conduct a workshop on birth registration, which would include different Government agencies, such as the national Registration Department, local legal practitioners and other relevant stakeholders.

Strategy for each PPG

Protection and solutions strategy (comprehensive)

UNHCR has no presence in Sabah and therefore information on the Filipino population residing there is limited. This means that efforts to strengthen the community are ad hoc and small scale at best.

Were funds available, UNHCR would seek to expand its presence in Kota Kinabalu, enabling the Office to not only monitor the situation of the Filipino refugees, but also to take proactive steps in meeting their protection needs. Presence on the ground in Sabah would also help UNHCR in its advocacy efforts. 

Unmet Needs

Refugees and asylum-seekers in peninsular Malaysia have been prioritised because of their vulnerability. As a result, programmes for Filipino refugees in east Malaysia are limited. Recent monitoring missions to Sabah show a worsening in the living conditions of the Filipino Muslims, which can only be partially addressed by UNHCR.