Filipino refugees in Sabah

Filipino refugees in Sabah

Strategy for each PPG

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.  

Protection and Operations Strategy


No significant change in the situation of Filipino refugees residing in the province of Sabah has occurred. Their protection needs vary, but those who do not have legal status or are undocumented can be subject to arrest, have no legal right to work or access to education. Most live in sub-standard conditions.

The Royal Commission of Inquiry on illegal immigrants in Sabah called for the establishment a permanent secretariat to address the issue of illegal immigrants. The secretariat will review the status of the immigrants, which could result in the revocation of documents held by immigrants who illegally obtained Malaysian citizenships. Some Filipino Muslim refugees might be affected by this verification. UNHCR will monitor the situation in Sabah; however, lack of a permanent presence will hinder effective monitoring of the situation.

Unmet Needs

Many Filipino refugees continue to live below the poverty line. Owing to limited income-generating/employment opportunities, many have limited/no access to clean water and electricity. In order to survive, they are forced to engage in very low level paying jobs. The Filipino refugees who have not acquired permanent residence status or citizenship continue to experience a number of problems ranging from lack of documentation, limited/no access to education opportunities, family planning services, sanitation, health care and at times, birth registration.

Despite the Government’s decision to provide the population with residency visas (IMM13s) since 1987, there are still a number of Filipino refugees who have not managed to obtain permanent residence status or citizenship. Many cannot afford to pay the annual renewal fee for the IMM13, resulting in their loss of legal status in the country. A significant number of children do not have birth certificates, which is a requirement to obtain the IMM13. Participatory assessments revealed that the renewal fee charged per person for IMM13 is unaffordable for many families, especially those with many children.

For families living in poverty, even those with the IMM13, health care is often unaffordable, as the holders of IMM13 permits are required to pay foreigner rates for health care services at Government hospitals and are not entitled to the 50 per cent discount on health care that UNHCR refugee card holders enjoy. The foreigner rates apply for hospital delivery fees, resulting in significant number of children born at home, with the assistance of local midwives rather than medical personnel.

Home births complicate the issuance of birth certificates, thus more children remain without documentation, which increased their risk of becoming stateless. Furthermore, birth certificates are not issued if one or both of the child’s parents do not possess IMM13s. Birth certification is a vital requirement for Filipino refugees in applying for the IMM13 and later for permanent residency and/or Malaysian citizenship. It is also an important requirement to prove nationality of parents, if children wish to remain citizens of Philippines in the future.

According to the Federal Task Force for Sabah, it is estimated that there are around 80,000 Filipino Muslim refugees. It is further estimated that only 61 per cent of them have some form of documentation while the remaining 39 per cent continue to risk of arrest/deportation.

The funding for the programme for Filipino refugees in Sabah province was limited to monitoring and was not sufficient to address all of the identified needs.