Stateless children of Borneo
Thousands of undocumented immigrants live in Sabah, East Malaysia on Borneo Island. Some have lived there for many years and have families. Not eligible for official documentation they are stateless people. Lacking official recognition, children cannot attend state school and many end up with no education working in menial jobs. Others are exploited by traffickers. Many are Bajau sea-gypsies, others are immigrants from the Muslim Sulu area of Southern Philippines. Indonesian workers also come across the porous border from Kalimantan seeking work.
Many of the Bajau Laut sea gypsies have now settled in Sabah. Climate change, overfishing and poverty have caused them to give up their nomadic life on the sea in favour of the shanty towns of coastal Sabah. The presence of migrants has been tolerated because many are contributing work in the state. However in recent years a rise in Muslim terrorist activity at tourist resorts around the coast has made the government less tolerant towards the migrants and less inclined to provide residency papers. So these shanty communities remain in limbo, trapped in an insecure situation where they cannot progress.
This story follows children from the shanty villages of Gaya Island, offshore from capital Kota Kinabalu, as they fight, play and hustle for a living in the capital’s busy fish docks and markets.