The recent murder of a teenager has brought the Pakistani scourge in Sabah into focus and its increasing threat to local native women and small businesses.
PENAMPANG: Racism is rife in Sabah and though chauvinism or xenophobia, if you will, has always existed here, it however seems to be gathering steam of late.
A mixture of politics, crime and other social problems related to demographic changes along with discussions and comments on the Internet has flushed out into the open simmering discontent between the Sabahans and the newcomers.
The first to bear the brunt of discrimination and bigotry were the Filipino refugees streaming across the border from civil-war-torn Southern Philippines and Indonesians. Now the focus is on Pakistani traders.
The unexplained death of Norikoh Saliwa, a 16-year-old student in Kota Marudu recently, and the subsequent detention a shop manager of Pakistani origin has however stirred anger against immigrants in general and Pakistanis in particular.
Turn any corner in Sabah – even in the most unlikely and remote places in its poor northern reaches or the scrappy east coast of the state - one is bound to see a trader from the sub-continent happily attending to a small grocery store, clothing outlet or selling electrical items and cell phones.
Ask and many will cheerfully admit that they are from Peshawar or some area in the North-West Frontier Province, in northwestern Pakistan near the Khyber Pass on the border with Afghanistan.
They are quiet, polite, speak Malay fairly fluently and keep to themselves. Talk about cricket or any of the stars of the game and they become amiably animated.
All admit that they come from a hardscrabble background in their home country.
Sabah has been good to them and they have become wealthy beyond their dreams.
But questions are now being raised about how these immigrants from an impoverished background have had the funds to start businesses in the state.
Who has given them the money and the licences to operate? Do they have a benefactor at state and federal level?
Some of the shoplots they rent in strategic areas are not cheap. Rentals can be between RM2,500 to RM4,000, the wage of a middle income office worker.
Then there is the cost of the goods in the shop that can range from between RM25,000 to over RM100,000.
Where is that stake or seed money coming from?
Many say they have obtained loans but decline to reveal from who but, insist they can make ends meet and even turn a profit despite the interest on the loans.
With an eye on elections around the corner and growing voter dissatisfaction over immigration, politicians have thrown caution to the winds and joined in the free-for-all immigrant-bashing.
The Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP), a local opposition group, is hoping to resurrect its fortunes on a Sabah-for-Sabahans agenda expressed on Sunday its “grave concern over the increase in the number of Pakistani traders in the district over the years”.
Party information chief Chong Pit Fah warned that their increasing presence in the district, if left unchecked, could pose a serious threat to the socio-economic well-being of the local residents.
“The business of the local tuck shop operators have been badly affected since these Pakistani traders started to come in to Penampang district in the last few years to set up their tuck shops in almost every nook and corner of the district right up to the Putatan sub district,” he said.
Speaking to reporters after lodging a police report at the district police station here Sunday, Chong who is also SAPP Kepayan chief, claimed that a recent random survey carried out by its Kepayan youth wing found that there were more than 20 tuck shops operated by the Pakistanis in the district.
The survey, he said, was prompted by public concern over the increasing number of Pakistani traders in the district, following the alleged murder of Saliwa.
“SAPP felt compelled to lodge a police report today, to urge the police as well as the Immigration Department to conduct a thorough check on these Pakistani traders who are operating the tuck shops in Penampang district.
“We strongly believed they could be abusing their social visit pass, or even having secured their stay and permit to do business through such dubious means like marriages of convenience with the rural native women, some of whom are single mothers,” he said.
Chong claimed to have received numerous reports that many of the Pakistanis coming to the state are targeting rural young native girls for marriages of convenience so that they could secure a longer stay in Sabah as well as to apply for trading licences.
According to sources, the preferred entry point into Sabah for Pakistan nationals and others is an indirect flight from Kuala Lumpur via Labuan.
“The major concern among the native community in Sabah now is that some of these Pakistani traders had returned to their wife and children back in Pakistan for good thus leaving behind their native wife and children here,” Chong said.
He further claimed that the district of Kota Marudu has a largish population of Pakistani nationals and has been dubbed ‘mini Karachi’.
Chong who was a former deputy chairman of the Penampang district council speculated that the increasing number of Pakistanis in the district could be a government-sanctioned tactic to alter the demographics of various ‘troublesome’ districts in the state in order to produce a favourable outcome for the Barisan Nasional government in any election.
He said there seemed no other justifications for the relevant authorities to allow such a huge number of Pakistani nationals to continue to come into Sabah.
“We know for a fact that the Filipino and the Indonesian workers are here because they are needed by the plantation and construction industries.
“But as for the Pakistanis … what have they contributed to Sabah? To help increase the population of Sabah and to ensure a perpetual rule by the Barisan Nasional?” he asked.
Making the report with Chong at the police station, were several SAPP district leaders.
ORIGINAL ARTICLE / Artikel Asal