ZAMBOANGA CITY -- Some 506 Filipinos who were illegally staying in Sabah, Malaysia arrived in Zamboanga City on February 15 after police and immigration authorities there deported them.

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Since January 1 this year, Salvador said the DSWD received and processed some 1,184 deportees or “halaws,” as they are colloquially called.

Last year, he said the DSWD agency assisted some 10,250 halaws.

The latest batch of deportees arrived in Zamboanga aboard an inter-island vessel that regularly plies the Sabah-Zamboanga route.

Of the new group, Salvador said 410 are males, 63 females, 21 male minors and 12 female minors.

Malaysia is rounding up and deporting illegally staying aliens in Sabah as part of its security measures against terrorism, and a long-running crackdown on such aliens.

Wahid Halil, 47, one of the deportees, said he was arrested at a checkpoint in Lahad Datu, Malaysia in February last year after he failed to present immigration documents.

He had been working in a Malaysian coconut farm for 15 years before he was caught.

He said he will return to his hometown in Sitangkai, Tawi-Tawi province.

He left behind his wife and two children in Malaysia.

Last week’s deportees were housed in the DSWD helter-skelter center because the facility is undergoing renovation.

Salvador said they were profiled as usual, and a few of them are believed to be Christians although majority are natives of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi provinces.

They received medical checkup, sanitary kits, clothing, food packages and fare money for their trip back home, Salvador said.

Halil said he fled to Sabah years ago to escape from the war and to find a job which was scarce in his town at that time — and never came back until he was caught and jailed for a year in Sandakan.

He said he was never hurt or maltreated while in jail.

Now, he returns to Sitangkai for good, from where on a clear day he can see the island of Sabah.

“My town is more peaceful now,” he said. “As soon as I get there, I will find a job probably in a seaweed farm and ask my wife and children to rejoin me, to live with our relatives.”

Last Sunday, he boarded a boat in Zamboanga that took him back to Sitangkai. (PNA)