KUCHING: Sarawak’s autonomy over immigration powers has been acting like a shield to protect the peace and harmony of its multiracial and multireligious society over the decades.
It is one of the state’s rights listed in the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63), thus Sarawak has the power to control or even ban anyone who may pose a threat to order and security, especially religious extremists and racial bigots, from entering the state.
Apart from that, Malaysians (non-Sarawakians) from the Peninsular and Sabah require a permit if they want to work or study in Sarawak. Those who are on a short visit to Sarawak and Sabah will have to fill an immigration form for a 90-day visitor pass.
Sarawak Minister for Tourism, Creative Industry and Performing Arts, Datuk Seri Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah said the state’s immigration autonomy was one of the fundamental powers sought by Sarawak leaders in their negotiation and agreement to form Malaysia in 1963.
The Sarawak government, he said, had made a bold stance that such autonomy was extremely important and it would not be open for negotiations.
“It is non-negotiable. It is one of our rights.
“It also reflects Sarawak’s status as different from the other states in Malaysia – as Sarawak was one of the signatories of MA63 during the formation of Malaysia,” he stressed.
Abdul Karim, the Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu vice-president, was responding to Datuk Mohd Zaid Ibrahim’s recent remark, that immigration powers allocated to Sabah and Sarawak were no longer necessary.
The former Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department had requested Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim “to ask the two states to allow Malaysians from the Peninsular to enter their states without an identity card or a passport.”
In a video posted on his Facebook page recently, Zaid went on to describe it as a ‘small matter’ to allow or give ‘some rights’ to Malaysians from the Peninsular to enter the two states freely.
However, Abdul Karim said all Malaysians, including Sarawakians who enter or return to the state from other states or countries, were required to show their identity card or MyKad.
“So, what’s the problem now? Those (Malaysians) from the Peninsular or Sabah do not necessarily need a passport to enter Sarawak as MyKad will do too. It is the same for Sarawakians who return home.
“For me, this shouldn’t be an issue…It is not violating the rights of Malaysians from other states (to enter Sarawak) but more on keeping a record of those who enter or exit our borders for security and safety reasons,” he added.
Meanwhile, Sri Aman MP Datuk Seri Doris Sophia Brodie described Zaid’s proposal as “insensitive and baseless”.
She said Zaid, who is also a lawyer by profession, should know very well that the immigration autonomy was an integral right of Sarawak in the context of MA63 and hence must not be compromised.
“I don’t know whether he (Zaid) was serious or joking when he asked Sarawak and Sabah to compromise our immigration power to trade for restoration of MA63.
“If he’s joking then it’s a bad joke, especially when it comes from someone who is of legal practice,” she added.
Doris, who is also the Parti Rakyat Sarawak Women’s chief, said Zaid’s proposal was completely against the spirit of MA63.
She said many, especially the younger generation, might not be aware that the spirit of MA63 was to safeguard and protect the interests of Sarawakians and Sabahans.
“So, why should we compromise our immigration power when we (Sarawakians) are fighting so hard to gain back our eroded rights?”
“We only seek our eroded rights to be restored and our rights in the context of MA63 are respected and protected – immigration autonomy is one of those elements,” she stressed.
As the country moved forward in the circumstances of a unity government, she said it would be important for communities to celebrate differences and strengthen unity by respecting and understanding the history and the formation of Malaysia as per MA63.
“I believe the prime minister upholds the spirit of MA63 and it was for that fact that he’d upon helming the premiership wants the outstanding issues concerning Sarawak and Sabah demands in the context of MA63 be immediately addressed,” she added.