KOTA KINABALU: Illegal immigrants will continue to be a major issue for Malaysia as people from neighbouring countries will continue to come to the country in search of better economic opportunities, said Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed.
The former Prime Minister said Malaysia is blessed with political and social stability, which attracts many foreigners to make Malaysia their home.
“Today we can double our population because some few million Indian and Chinese would like to migrate to Malaysia,” he quipped when testifying before the Royal Commission of Inquiry on Immigrants here, yesterday.
Mahathir, who was asked to comment on the influx of Filipinos into Sabah, said Malaysia has a considerably lenient policy on immigrants.
“Some of them may still think that Sabah is part of the Philippines so they can send 200 people to intrude us. That is their mistake, that is their perception. But there are a lot of people in the Philippines, if given the choice, would come to Sabah, because Sabah is much more peaceful, the opportunities here are much greater. So, they will (continue to) come here,” he said.
To a question from the Sabah Law Association, Mahathir maintained that the policy of the government was that immigrants should be granted citizenship according to the law and the constitution.
He said the Constitution of Malaysia did not state coming into the country legally as a pre-requisite for applying for citizenship.
He said the law only provided that immigrants who had stayed in the country for certain period of time, had learned the national language, and met certain other requirements are eligible to apply.
“If you like, you could give them citizenship. If you look as if illegal immigrants can get citizenship, that is the opinion of the officer concerned,” he said.
On why the Federal Government had not set up security posts along the Sabah-Indonesia borders similar to that in Pontianak, Sarawak, there was no special reason for not doing this and that it was probably due to immigration problems involving Indonesians coming to Sabah through landed borders were not considered as serious as that involving immigrants from the Philippines.
As to the call from certain quarters that the government should stop issuing citizenship to immigrants in Sabah as a way to discourage them from coming in illegally, he said, it was up to the government to decide whether to maintain or amend the related laws.
“I cannot vouch for anyone, but as a politician, I go according to the law. Those who stayed more than 30 years should be given citizenship,” he said.
To a related question, Mahathir defended the government’s open arm policy towards stateless people from other countries seeking refuge in Malaysia.
He said the Malaysian government has always been friendly to its neighbours and willing to help stateless people who ended up on its soil.
“We have a lot of stateless people, particularly from Myanmar at the moment. Myanmar is not willing to accept them as their citizen and they cannot go anywhere… and we try to help them as much as possible.
“The result is that more of them has landed in Malaysia than elsewhere. They want to go to Australia but they decided to go to Malaysia, because we are very kind people.
“This happens a lot where many of our neighbours do not want to accept their own citizens and we cannot just throw them into the sea, we have to be considerate.
“That is our view, or at least that was my view when I was the prime minister and even the current PM does not tell these people to go off,” he said.
Talking to the media after the proceedings, Mahathir said, the inquiry went well and he was thankful that the questions asked were reasonable and he was able to answer them all.
He also reiterated his previously reported statement that he had never given instruction to anyone during his tenure to do anything illegal in regards to the issuance of citizenship to immigrants in Sabah.
“I have never instructed for anything illegal, but I have given instruction to do legal things, that people who qualify to become citizen, they can become citizen,” he said.