ZAMBOANGA CITY – Bringing only a single plastic baggage since his departure from his prison cell in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, 22-year-old Al Hadain walked barefoot, descending from the commercial ferry from Sandakan on Holy Thursday.
It was raining hard and the pavements were wet. But Hadain did not have slippers with him.
He says the Malaysian authorities who arrested him in Kota Kinabalu did return his belongings when they were transported away from their prison cell.
It was his fault, he says, because he did not have anything with him, save a malong kept inside the only baggage he carried and the clothes he wore.
He says some of his companions were not given even slippers before they boarded the ferry to Zamboanga City.
He also says that while he was inside the cell detained for working without legal documents, there was an alleged epidemic and caused a cell mate to die.
Hadain's stories were among those that greeted officials from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Office.
Jamila Arasid, Center Head for the Center for Displaced Persons in Barangay Mampang, Zamboanga City promised that the center will provide shelter, food, clothes and even slippers for at least 277 undocumented Filipinos from Sabah.
Arasid also says they were expecting an even bigger number of 353.
But due to the limited capacity of the commercial ferry, more than 50 other repatriates were left in Sandakan awaiting transport early next week.
The DSWD has been spearheading taking care temporarily the needs of Filipino deportees arriving, since the clashes erupted between the Royal Security Force and the Malaysian authorities early February in Sabah.
But other than undocumented Filipinos, officials from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) also found out that some were bona fide overseas Filipino workers but failed to get necessary workers permit who also went with the group.
Angeles Engalla, OIC for Region 9 says they are ready to assist Filipinos, who would want to go back to Sabah and reclaim their jobs.
Aside from the 277 evacuees, at least 9 others from Sabah arrived in Zamboanga City from Sulu.