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Sabah migrants docu wins best short at Freedom Film Fest
Published:  Sep 27, 2015 8:13 AM
Updated: 1:22 AM

Marcel Simok from Citizen Journalist Malaysia has won the best short film award at this year's Freedom Film Festival for his short documentary titled 'Living in Drains'.

The short film follows the story of undocumented migrant Aliudin and his family, who had gone to Sabah from the Philippines to seek a better life.

However, they now live in constant fear of the authorities and have no legal protection under Sabah laws.

They are also unable to send their children to school and because they lack papers, they become easy prey for blackmail money.

"As a native Sabahan, I just want to document the other side of the truth of stateless illegal immigrants for the world to see, even though their presence is not welcome," Marcel, a former civil servant turned human rights activist said, as reported by Citizen Journalist Malaysia.

Citizen Journalist Malaysia was a Malaysiakini programme to train members of the public journalistic skills and have their work published on

According to Marcel, the main challenge he faced while making the documentary was to convince the migrants to speak up, as they are concerned about repercussions from the authority.

In the award-winning documentary, Aliudin revealed that if he is ever stopped by the police, he would lose his hard-earned money, which was not much to begin with.

"If I get caught twice in a day, that's already RM700. My daily income is so little. This has forced me to stop working because my kids began worrying (about me)," Aliudin said.

Aliudin and his family does not have any legal rights in the East Malaysian state either, causing his children to lose out on a proper education.

"My kids would always say to me, ‘I want to go to school’, but we can't send them to school. We don't have the necessary documents," he said in the documentary.

Taking advantage of migrants

This is not Marcel's first documentary on the struggle of undocumented migrants.

Backed by a small grant from the Netherlands Embassy in 2013, he had produced a documentary titled 'Lynn: A Traumatised and Stateless Child', which focuses on the children of undocumented immigrants in Sabah.

"It saddens me that being a country that is moving towards a developed nation status, we can't even give basic education to children, regardless of their status.

"Have we stooped this low? Denying the fundamental right to any child - a basic education?" Marcel asked.

Sabah has struggled with the issue of undocumented migrants for years, as it is close to Brunei, the Philippines, and Indonesia.

The people of Sabah also tend to be divided about how to deal with these undocumented immigrants.

"The more we stay blind to the problems faced by the undocumented illegal migrants, we create more problems in Sabah.

“Everyone will take advantage of the situation without regard for the betterment of Sabah," Marcel said.

'Living in Drains' was also selected by the Sabah Film Academy and screened at the Kota Kinabalu International Film Festival in 2014 and won the Mentor Award.

Since 2003, Freedom Film Festival has been a vital platform for social justice filmmakers and human rights activists to showcase their films and advocate their causes.

The festival is organised by Pusat Komas, an NGO which uses popular communications to promote human rights.