Malaysia to stop issuing cards to PH barter traders
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines—The Malaysian immigration department on Thursday said it would stop issuing Seaman Identification Cards (SICs), particularly to Filipino barter traders, beginning April as part of tightened security measures following the intrusion into Sabah by armed followers of the sultan of Sulu.
The decision was announced by Malaysian Immigration Director Alias Ahmad on a Sabah radio program during his visit to Kota Kinabalu.
In the past, the Malaysian immigration agency allowed Filipinos into Sabah and Labuan without passports as long as they presented SICs, documents issued mainly to merchant seamen by the Jabatan Laut Malaysia, or the Malaysian marine office.
Barter traders entering Sabah and Labuan, a Malaysian federal territory about 8 kilometers from Sabah, easily secured SICs before as long as they satisfied some requirements, including a valid medical examination certificate and payment of RM50.
“Previously we would issue the Seaman Identification Card to barter trade seamen who had no travel documents,” Alias said, adding that it was a mistake on the part of the Malaysian government.
He cited data that showed 18,388 SICs were issued to foreigners last year but he did not say if all of those who received the documents were Filipinos.
“By doing so, we didn’t know who these people are, they can be from other countries but claim to be from the Philippines,” he said.
Alias said the stricter rules were aimed at preventing activities “that might jeopardize the country’s security,” especially by Filipinos.
“But this is not aimed at barring them from entering the country as long as their purpose is lawful and they can satisfy regulations,” he said.
Alias said under the new rules, Filipino barter traders would be required to present Philippine passports and seaman’s books before they could be allowed to disembark in Sabah or Labuan starting April 15 and that no more SICs would be issued.
“Now we make it strict according to the requirements of international practice that foreigners are required to have travel documents when entering other countries,” Alias said.
He said that aside from not issuing new or renewing expiring SICs, the Malaysian immigration office would also be restricting the movement of Filipino barter traders in Sabah and Labuan. The office will also limit the number of days they can stay in the two Malaysian states, he said.
“Those who will enter Sabah and Labuan will not be allowed to shift to another boat until they return to the Philippines,” Alias said.
Filipino barter traders enter Sabah through Sandakan, Tawau or Kudat and Labuan.
Alias said barter traders who failed to abide by the new regulations would be arrested at the ports and tried under Malaysian immigration laws.
The crew of sea vessels carrying undocumented Filipinos to Malaysian territories will also be tried under Malaysia’s human trafficking and migrants laws, he said.
Mark Basaluddin, chief executive officer of the Canelar Trading Center here, told the Inquirer that even before the announcement of the new Malaysian immigration rules, barter traders were already feeling the heat from the Sabah intrusion.
Basaluddin said one of his boats and its cargo of goods worth about P9 million, was being held by Malaysian authorities, who also refused to release the 12 members of the crew.
“They have been held (in Malaysia) since the last week of February. If the seaman’s book will be canceled, I don’t know what will happen to my crew,” he said.
Cecilia Imperial, a barter trader here, said traders could turn to other countries as sources of goods, but the cost of shipping the goods, compared to those from Sabah or Labuan, would would surely go up.
Basaluddin said the new immigration rules would affect 50 percent of the total volume of goods sold in barter trade stores here.
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