It’s more than just houses

KUALA LUMPUR, June 29 — The recent uproar in Sabah surrounding the Bajau Lad tribe, sometimes known as Palau, has thrust this oft-persecuted community back into the spotlight.

The latest conflict between the state and the Bajau lot in Sabah centers around the eviction of tribals from their homes.

But this latest episode goes a long way and really highlights the challenges to tribal rights and the protectorate role of the state.

Who is Bajau Lad?

Inhabiting mainly the seas of Southeast Asia, particularly in the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia, the Bajau Lad, known as „sea nomads” or „sea gypsies”, are celebrated for their extraordinary diving skills and deep kinship. the sea

Traditionally, they live in boats or stilt houses set above the water, their livelihood is fishing and searching for marine resources.

While some have moved to land dwellings, others cling firmly to their nomadic existence at sea. Both often follow the blurred lines of which nation has official residency.

Recent tensions erupted when authorities demolished and burned settlements in the Tun Sagaran Marine Park on Sabah’s east coast, where they are sometimes shunned even by local, indigenous Bajau lads who have embraced modern civilization.

Why is the Sabah government going after them?

Sabha officers have a duty to strengthen national security and protect the environment. Therefore, the move to evict the settlers is a response to the proliferation of unauthorized structures within the boundaries of the marine park.

State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Christina Liew underlined that these measures are necessary to mitigate security threats and reduce environmental violations.

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However, the move, which covers areas around Pohe Tulong, Maiga, Bodhgaya, Sepangkat and Sibuan Island, underscores the myriad challenges faced by the Bajau Lad community.

Conflicts between nomads seeking permanent homes and the government

Many, despite the threat of deportation, consider places like Semborna and Sabah their home, their statelessness prone to labeling them as illegal immigrants or undocumented migrants.

Birth registrations are often abandoned by wary parents out of fear of retribution, thereby limiting their children’s access to education and health services.

While Indonesia and Malaysia have informally agreed that children should not be detained while in school, they are likely to be detained outside school premises.

Bajau Laut has also been criticized for sustainable fishing practices, including blast fishing and cyanide fishing, which harm marine ecosystems.

Also, conflicts over land rights, resource allocation and meetings with local authorities have added to their woes.

Calls from human rights groups and NGOs to halt the evictions in Semborna and provide more aid to the Bajau lot echo.

Advocates emphasize the imperative of dialogue and negotiation to develop sustainable solutions that sustain the dignity and well-being of this resilient community.


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