KOTA KINABALU • Sabah has kicked off its mass repatriation of illegal immigrants by sending home 400 Filipinos this week after a month-long delay.
State Security Council director Rodzi Saad said the Filipinos, aged between one and 60, left the East Malaysia state on Tuesday evening on board the Lady Mary Joy 3 ferry.
"All of these immigrants had been detained at the Sandakan temporary detention centre prior to their repatriation from Sandakan to Zamboanga on Tuesday evening," he said in a statement.
He added that such efforts showed the government's commitment to tackling illegal immigration issues in Sabah.
The deportation had been delayed when the ship which was supposed to ferry the illegal immigrants sank at the Philippines' Zamboanga jetty on Sept 22.
Sabah has seen an influx of illegal immigrants for more than three decades, and this has caused social and economic problems for the state.
Last week, Prime Minister Najib Razak said Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who was visiting the country, had in their meeting agreed to take back the 7,000 Filipinos currently residing illegally in Sabah.
The two leaders agreed to send home the illegal immigrants in stages, with the Malaysian Navy providing the ships to do so if necessary.
Following talks with Mr Duterte last week, Mr Najib said the Philippines also agreed to allow Malaysian and Indonesian maritime forces to pursue Islamist kidnappers in its waters.
The waters between Sabah and the southern Philippines have for years seen repeated kidnappings by militant group Abu Sayyaf. It is a lucrative trade for the group, which pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines agreed earlier this year to increase cooperation, including possible joint sea patrols in the region.
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE