Menggatal Police Station in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia. Photo: Google Maps

Malaysian police have launched a manhunt for five Filipinos who escaped from a detention center for illegal immigrants in Menggatal, Sabah, on New Year’s day.

At around 5pm on Monday, while staff were busy distributing meals, seven foreign inmates stirred up a melee to bump through guards and flee from the center by climbing over a fence, Sin Chew Daily (Malaysia) reported.

Two were caught almost immediately nearby. However, five runaways later confirmed as Filipino nationals, aged from 30 to 61, have not been found.

Officers at the detention center filed a report on the escape to police at 6pm that evening.

One of the two men arrested revealed that a colleague with a centipede tattoo was the perpetrator, as he had promised a van would pick them up after the breakout.

Penampang police chief Deputy Supt Haris Ibrahim said officers were conducting specific operations to try to locate the escapees, but refused to give further details on the breakout.

Menggatal Temporary Detention Centre, known as the ‘Red House’, is a temporary holding area for foreign nationals arrested for not having a proper visa or working papers in Sabah.