By Chris Maskilone
KOTA KINABALU: Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) President Datuk Seri Yong Teck Lee said a legal team is offering free legal advice to stranded Chinese tourists following the suspension of all flights from their country to Sabah and vice versa.
The free legal advice is also being offered to those wishing to remain in Sabah but denied extension of visa.
However, there is a disclaimer that the legal advice offer does not cover China nationals who have been involved in illegal gambling and other scams for which the law of the land must take its course.
“Further information about this legal team will be provided to the China Consulate General office on Monday, 10 February,” said Yong in a statement here today.
According to him, it was inhumane for the Sabah authorities to, in effect, put these tourists, who have entered Sabah with valid passports and valid visas, in a trap in Sabah.
“On one hand, the Sabah authorities have suspended all scheduled flights to and from China. On the other hand, the Sabah authorities have refused to extend their visas beyond seven days from the date of the expiry of their permit to stay in Sabah.
‘How are these China tourists expected to leave Sabah when Sabah has suspended all flights between Sabah and China?
“And yet, the Sabah government refuses to extend their visas to remain in Sabah pending the uncertain availability of flights out of Sabah to China,” said Yong who is a lawyer by profession.
The abrupt suspension of flights between Sabah and China would result in most of the trapped tourists to “overstay” in Sabah beyond their initial visa to remain in the state, he said.
“When these “overstaying” tourists eventually leave, they might be detained by immigration authorities at the airport like the tragedy that was inflicted on the four young, innocent lady tourists who were detained in December last year for 18 days at Tawau for ‘travel documents problem’ in Sabah even though they were not at fault.
“If the immigration detains the departing tourists, they might be sent to the immigration detention centres.
“Are the immigration detention centres equipped to be a medical or quarantine centre as well? Is this a practicable and wise move to detain legitimate tourists who want to return to their countries?” he asked.
Or, perhaps the immigration might just let the departing tourists leave without any action taken against them, he said.
The former Chief Minister said in this case, it would be wiser on the part of the government to announce an extension of visas for 30 days, as proposed by some NGOs.
This was more logical as Malaysian airline companies have announced no penalty on passengers deferring their flights to China, while a full refund will be given to those cancelling their flights and that no fee will be charged to passengers changing to a different flight until Mar 1, he said.
‘In this case, would it not be practicable and advisable to allow the China tourists to remain at least until March 1 pending further developments on the virus situation?” he argued.
Yong said the health authorities should have confirmation by now if any of the China tourists have been affected by the novel coronavirus.
“If they are not affected, then there is no issue in them remaining in Sabah which can help to alleviate the economic crisis faced by the tourism sector.
“If they are affected, then it follows that the health authorities will quarantine them for medical purposes.
“Either way, the extension of their visas under today’s extraordinary circumstances do not change the health status of the tourists concerned,” he said.-SabahNewsToday