28 May 2023 marks a heart-wrenching day for our community as we mourn the untimely passing of Tebek, a beloved member of the stateless Bajau Laut community of Omadal Island. The thrill of the tourists' arrival, bearing gifts of food and money, triggered her excitement and unfortunately resulted in a seizure where she subsequently drowned — a terrible accident that has shocked our community.
This press statement aims to shed light on Tebek and her community’s struggle. However, we begin with a cry of help for our community who have endured the distressing experiences brought on by ill-mannered tourists who view our children and community members as objects of fascination, using food and money to entice them for personal amusement, exotic gaze and photo opportunities. Because there are no manners and respect for the community here, tourists often take pictures of naked children which clearly violates the laws of the country as stated in the Sexual Offenses Against Children Act 2017.
Despite the requirement for tourists to obtain permission slips and pass it to the nearby police station before visiting our island, these regulations are often ignored, putting our people at risk. Yesterday’s tragedy underscores the need for more robust, systemic management and enforcement of tourist visitations to the island to safeguard the dignity and well-being of our Bajau Laut community.
We call upon local and national authorities, and international organizations, to assist in bringing about crucial change. We demand more rigorous oversight of tourism on Omadal Island and ask for measures to educate visitors about the respect due to the Bajau Laut community.
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