It was set up by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in the 1970s for refugees who fled the conflict in their homeland, but it has since become home to many illegal foreigners
Despite the many police raids and eviction exercises, Pulau Gaya has remained a problem for Sabah. On Friday, two gunmen were shot dead while an inspector and two other policemen were seriously wounded in a shootout during a drug raid.
No one is surprised at the lawlessness there. For many Sabahans, the presence of illegal foreigners has truly tested their limits of tolerance. Many are angry and frustrated that the Government has not done enough to send these illegals home.
In the past, it was just the Filipinos and Indonesians, but now there are also increasingly high numbers of Pakistanis and Bangladeshis.
No one is sure of their actual numbers but locals fear that the situation has gone out of control. They want the federal government to take real action.
The authorities say there are 60,000 foreigners, mainly from the Philippines, who have been allowed to stay temporarily in Sabah because of the fighting in southern Philippines. These people hold what is known as the IMM13 document. But many believe there are at least 1.75 million foreigners in the state, of which 750,000 are illegal.
At the Dewan Rakyat, DAP MP Teresa Kok was told that as at March 2006, Sabah has a population of 2.98 million but 743,600 were non-citizens.
The Consumer Association of Sabah and Labuan is currently on a campaign to collect 100,000 signatures to petition the King to set up a Royal Commission of Inquiry to investigate fresh allegations that tens of thousands of identity cards had been issued to foreigners under special exercises.
Allegations that certain powerful political figures had endorsed the influx of illegals into Sabah for political expediency should be given serious attention as it has now become public knowledge.
The situation in Sabah should no longer be treated as a local issue. It is a national security crisis because the influx of foreigners into the state has not stopped.
No one is even sure of the numbers and certainly no one can ascertain how many have genuine identity cards.
Furthermore, no one knows how many of these cards were obtained by dubious means and how many of the card holders have become Malaysian citizens, and even voted in state elections, as alleged. Then, there is the question of how many of these foreigners are walking around with fake documents.
If the authorities continue to take this lightly and give the impression that it has not acted strongly against these foreigners, then we are sending the wrong message to Malaysians and these foreigners.
The demand by Sabahans, who are fed up with putting up with crime committed by these foreigners, deserves to be given immediate attention by the Internal Security Ministry.
It is a big mess but the authorities need to sort it out. It may have political implications and high-level figures may even be implicated but the authorities have to get to the bottom of the problem.
At a recent roundtable discussion by the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, officials from the state level immigration and national registration departments snubbed the commissioners. Vice-chairman Simon Sipaun correctly said that the presence of the officials could have helped close the gap between "general perceptions and the real situation".
It is pertinent to note that the police have announced that Bukit Aman has set up a task force to investigate the allegations of fake MyKad holders in Sabah.
The situation in Sabah should be given national attention as it would have serious political, economic and social implications. More important, the presence of a huge number of illegal foreigners poses a threat to national security.
Sabah needs a good clean-up. The people have a right to feel comfortable and secure in their own state without any threats from anyone, especially from foreigners.