GEORGE TOWN, May 1 ― The historical Pulau Jerejak that used to be a leprosarium, a quarantine centre and a high-security prison should be turned into a Unesco World Heritage Site, said the Sungai Buloh Settlement Council.
The group advocating the historical preservation of the Sungai Buloh leprosy settlement has started an international petition with 36 signatures from organisations from over 15 countries to demand that all proposed developments on the small island be stopped.
In the three-page petition, the council listed the historical significance of the island when it was established as a settlement back in 1871.
“We, the Sungai Buloh Settlement Council, represent the Sungai Buloh settlement's community, whom some of us were originally from Pulau Jerejak settlement, demand that the Penang Chief Minister, Heritage Commissioner, and Minister of Tourism and Culture to impose an immediate moratorium on the development plans and preserve all historic structures on the island under National Heritage Act 2005,” the petition stated.
It claimed that many in the settlement had lived in Pulau Jerejak before they were forced to move to the Sungai Buloh Settlement in October 1969.
According to the petition, the small island off Penang island was the oldest full-scale leprosy institution for 102 years starting from 1867.
It was also the quarantine station for immigrants who first arrived in Penang between 1877 to 1940.
It was also used as a contagion-control centre for contagious diseases like tuberculosis, smallpox and cholera.
From 1948 until the early 1950s, it was turned into a detention camp for suspected communists.
The island was also known as “Alcatraz island” of Malaysia when it was converted into a high-security prison from 1969 to 1993.
The petition pointed out that the island still has historical relics and buildings on it such as the leprosy camps, the tombstones of those who died there, the prison complex, the barrack buildings from the quarantine centre, the water reservoir and underground water container and other remaining structures such as the old jetties.
Based on the island's rich history, the petition states that the Sungai Buloh Settlement along with Pulau Jerejak Settlement can be nominated as Unesco world heritage sites.
“Gazette the remaining historical buildings and relics including its immediate buffer as a national heritage site under the National Heritage Act 2005,” the council also demanded in its petition.
The petition was in response to an announcement by UDA Holdings that they planned to build a mixed development project on the 32.3ha (80 acres) of land on the island, where the now-closed Jerejak Rainforest Resort & Spa is located.
The project will include 1,200 residential units, a theme park, a marina, hotels and a cycling track.
UDA Holdings earlier announced that it had entered into a joint-venture agreement with Q Islands Development Sdn Bhd (QID) to redevelop Jerejak Rainforest Resort & Spa.
According to UDA Holdings, the Penang state government had already approved the redevelopment master plan and work is expected to start late this year.