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Photographer's Note

Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia (or ‘Malaysian Borneo’ as the local tourist office likes to call it – I suppose that sounds more exotic to foreign tourists than just ‘Malaysia’) has many water villages along its shores and mangrove estuaries. I spent a few hours shooting there last weekend, but the light wasn’t particularly good, so for this post I decided to go with a relatively tight crop of some of the village houses to accentuate the reflections on the water. It was just on high tide when I shot this, so the water was quite still to provide these nice reflections.

These water villages are home to many stateless people and illegal immigrants, mainly from the southern Philippines. Kota Kinabalu’s problem with illegal immigration started in the 1970s when thousands of people fled the Muslim insurgency in Mindanao, and other islands in the southern Philippines, but even after the Philippines Government signed a peace agreement with the rebel Moro National Liberation Front in 1978, the illegal immigrants have continued to come to Sabah for economic reasons.

The proximity of the islands of the southern Philippines to the Sabah coastline makes it easy for immigrants to reach Malaysia undetected, and their physical and cultural features being very similar to the indigenous Malays, makes it easy for them to be assimilated into the local community. When the illegal immigrants have children that are born in Malaysia, it is not possible for them to register their births, and so their children become ‘stateless’.

Illegal immigration is a problem throughout Malaysia. In many other parts of the country it involves immigrants from Indonesia which make up the largest number of illegal immigrants. From time to time the Government cracks down on the immigrants, threatening to round them up and whip them if they don’t return to their own countries. A couple of years ago, in one such crackdown, there was a mass exodus of Indonesians from Peninsular Malaysia, and the country’s entire construction industry came to standstill. The government hadn’t realised that nearly every construction worker was an illegal immigrant!

Gradually many filtered back into the country, some with legal work permits that had to be issued to keep the construction industry going, but many without. For most of the time, the Government turns a blind eye to the immigration problem because the Indonesians, Bangladeshis, Nepalese, Filipinos, etc. are prepared to do the ‘dirty work’ that Malaysians don’t want. But when there is a spate of crime involving illegal immigrants, the Government is forced to do something. So there is a crackdown and then the cycle starts all over again.

PP: Adjusted levels, increased contrast +7, USM at 450% (0.4)

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Additional Photos by David Astley (banyanman) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 1237 W: 108 N: 2568] (7789)
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