LAHAD DATU: A group of Pelahus,locally known as Bajau sea gypsies, claimed that they had been swindled of their Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia 2.0 (BR1M or 1 Malaysia People’s Aid) by some ‘middlemen’.

According to a Borneo Insider report yesterday, they were registered last March on the premise that they were to get the RM500 worth of BR1M aid, which would be worth a fortune to this wondering tribe, who live most of the time on their boats and are seldom on land, unless absolutely necessary.

But alas their hopes did not come true, at least for the majority of them.

Their spokesman, Abdul Han, claimed that only 10 out of the 60 families whose applications were successful, had received their BR1M payment.

Even then, the amount received was only RM150, and not RM500 as stipulated.

They now believe they have been ripped off by certain ‘middlemen’ who helped facilitate their BR1M application with the relevant authorities.

The group, part of a colony of sea gypsies currently squatting in the vicinity of Bandar Wilayah Jasa here, are wondering aloud as to what has happened to the promises made to them prior to the 13th General Election.

“Unfortunately, when most of the successful applicants received their BR1M payment, what we got to show is only the BR1M registration number,” lamented Abdul Han.

“Although we are illiterate, these people should not have exploited us. Furthermore, this is not the first time,” he told the Borneo Insider.

Their plight came to light when a friend of Abdul Han tipped off the online news portal about the predicament of the sea gypsies who are currently squatting in their makeshift ‘houses’ at Bandar Wilayah Jasa.

Abdul Han claimed that when some officials came to register them for the BR1M 2.0 scheme in March this year, they were told that there were more than 1,000 qualified applicants from among the islanders. This included some 400 Bajau natives.

It was reported that he had summoned his fellowmen who were around at that time, to come forward and show their BR1M registration slips, in order to substantiate his claim.

The community, who earn their living from fishing or by collecting marine produce, were hoping that with their plight reported, they would get what had been promised to them.

Abdul Han also lamented that they had no choice but to squat in the vicinity of Bandar Wilayah Jasa, because the houses promised to them by a ‘big official’, as the condition for their relocation to the Bajau Laut resettlement scheme in Kampung Kunak 3, was not ready yet.

On top of that, their livelihood was severely affected when the authorities concerned imposed a ridiculous restriction on them; whereby only the head of the family is allowed to go out to the sea to fish, he claimed.

The rest of the family members are required to remain at their temporary shelter in the community centre, which is located next to the Muslim Cemetery.

“It’s very difficult for us to go out fishing in the sea alone. We tried to put up with it but it just didn’t work. Meanwhile, the Imam of the village too started chasing us away.

“He said we should leave the place since we have gotten our BR1M money. Hence, all of us had no choice but to leave the village en-bloc and came here to squat,” Abdul Han explained.

Hence, some 400 of them were currently forced to squat in the vicinity of Bandar Wilayah Jasa. Some sleep in their fishing boats, while others make-do on the five-foot ways of the shops, at night.

They have been squatting there for the past three weeks now.

“At least, over here, we are able to feed our families by doing some odd jobs and by begging,” he said.

Abdul related that early this year, the relevant authority had dispatched six government trucks to relocate them to the village where the so-called Bajau Laut resettlement scheme was supposed to be.

In the meantime, their fishing boats – 24 units altogether, were towed to the seafront by a 10-man unit of the relevant authority.

But, when they returned to collect their fishing boats later, they were informed that two of the fishing boats had sunk.

Upon checking, they also found that some of their valuable belongings on the boats were missing.

He also lamented that besides the non-delivery of the promised houses, clothing and rice, the authority concerned also failed to send their children to the religious school to study, as promised.

He then revealed that last year when his wife approached the District Welfare Department to follow up on her application for welfare aid, she was informed that the Government had approved it, and that her family and many other Sea Gypsies would be relocated to the resettlement scheme.

“We really appreciate the kind assistance of the Barisan Nasional (BN) government and the prime minister. Unfortunately, such a good intention has been defeated by some irresponsible government officers,” he said.

He also claimed that the relevant authority had earlier told them that their Mykad would be ready by next month.

This is also one of the reasons why they have decided to come to Lahad Datu, so that it would be easier for them to collect their MyKad later.

Abdul Han acknowledged that the Mykad means a lot to them as it would enable them to seek employment, besides sending their children to school.

Asked whether they were willing to return to the resettlement, he said they would, provided that the relevant authority could provide them with proper housing, and not leave them to fend for themselves.

Meanwhile, relevant authorities like the District Officer Zulkifli Nasir and Lahad Datu Assemblyman Datuk Yusof Apdal could not be reached for comment, at press time.