LAHAD DATU, Sabah—More than 500 Filipinos affected by the conflict in the east coast of Sabah are staying in three evacuation centers in Felda Sahabat area, where Malaysian security forces continue to hunt for Rajah Mudah Agbimuddin Kiram, brother of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, and members of the so-called “Royal Army of the Sultanate of Sulu.”
An augmentation team from the Philippine Embassy sent to provide humanitarian and consular assistance to the Filipinos caught in the conflict met with the evacuees on Monday.
The evacuees have been receiving adequate food and medical assistance from various Malaysian nongovernment organizations, the team said.
The evacuation centers are set up in the areas of Cenderawasih, Embara Budi, and Fajar Harapan in Felda Sahabat. Felda stands for Federal Land Development Authority, a government-linked corporation in Malaysia that employs hundreds of Filipino workers.
The evacuees are residents of the nearby villages where fighting erupted between Agbimuddin’s followers and the Malaysian military and police early this month.
On Tuesday, the Philippine Daily Inquirer visited the Embara Budi gym guarded by Malaysian police. The evacuees could not be interviewed but Inquirer photographer Edwin Bacasmas was allowed to take photographs.
The Inquirer learned that around 500 Filipino and Malaysian evacuees, including children and infants, from six villages have been staying at the Embara Budi gym for the past eight days, without any certainty when they would be able to return to their homes.
Mattresses and boxes of supplies were distributed to the evacuees.
A Filipino government official told the Inquirer that a number of undocumented Filipinos want to return to the Philippines to avoid the conflict.
The Philippine government has asked Malaysia to allow their return without having to pay penalties or be detained.
“We’re having continuing talks about this,” the official said on condition of anonymity, as he was not authorized to talk to the media.
The official added that a representative from the Department of Social Welfare and Development and the embassy’s social welfare attaché would soon arrive in Lahad Datu to provide assistance to the affected Filipinos, such as giving them food or even fare to return to the Philippines.