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Sunday, 1 September, 2002, 07:59 GMT 08:59 UK
Malaysia halts Filipino deportations
A Filipino mother and child wait for deportation
Reports of child deaths have stoked anger in the Philippines
Malaysia has agreed to suspend forced repatriations of illegal Filipino migrant workers amid outrage over conditions in detention camps, where three children are reported to have died.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said he would accede to a request from Philippines President Gloria Arroyo to allow her time to send officials to inspect the holding centres.

A Filipino child waits for deportation
Hundreds of Filipinos were deported on Saturday before the suspension
He rejected accusations from Manila that the migrants were being treated inhumanely, but said he was prepared to put deportations on hold briefly.

He made it clear there would be no change to Malaysia's tough new law allowing for the caning and jailing of illegal workers - a policy which has seen hundreds of thousands of Indonesians and Filipinos leave the country, though many still remain.

Mrs Arroyo asked Dr Mahathir if she could send a delegation on Monday to see the camps in the Malaysian state of Sabah, across the sea from the southern Philippines.

Official complaint

The Philippines Government filed an official complaint with Malaysia saying three infants had died during repatriation - but Malaysian camp officials have denied that any died in their jurisdiction.


I said you can send somebody to see [the camps] - no problem

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad
There are unconfirmed reports of another 10 Filipino child deaths and Indonesian authorities say at least 27 Indonesian workers who recently left Malaysia have also died.

Dr Mahathir was quoted by the national Bernama news agency as agreeing to Mrs Arroyo's request.

"She asked me whether we can take a short break in sending their people home," he said.

"I agreed because they want to send somebody to see. I said you can send somebody to see - no problem."

Deportations 'will resume'

Once the team from Manila was satisfied there was no ill treatment, the deportations would resume, he said.

Malaysia's anti-illegal immigration law came into force on 1 August, though an amnesty was extended for workers who could prove they had tickets to leave the country.

More than 300,000 mostly Indonesian and Filipino workers have left Malaysia this year.


A great tragedy is happening in the southern Philippines

Philippines President Gloria Arroyo
But there has been anger both from the people being told to leave - some after many years - and from employers in sectors such as construction, who say they need the foreign labour.

The detention centres have proved particularly controversial, with Malaysia claiming they had been inspected and approved by United Nations staff, but the UN's refugee agency denying it had visited or sanctioned the conditions.

Mrs Arroyo has visited some of the returning Filipinos and said in her weekly radio address she had seen "first-hand the sufferings of thousands of deportees from Sabah".

"A great tragedy is happening in the southern Philippines," she said.

But Mrs Arroyo also moved to cool the row with Malaysia, which she called "our ally in security, peace and development".

On Saturday, more than 450 Filipinos, including 250 who had been arrested and held in a detention centre, left Sabah, the latest of about 2,000 deportations on navy ships before the suspension was announced, officials said.

See also:

29 Aug 02 | Asia-Pacific
27 Aug 02 | Asia-Pacific
10 Aug 02 | Asia-Pacific
07 Aug 02 | Asia-Pacific
01 Aug 02 | Asia-Pacific
20 Jun 02 | Asia-Pacific
04 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
13 Dec 01 | Country profiles
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