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Illegal immigrants in Malaysia hiding as crackdown starts

Authorities dismisses fears that detainees may be mistreated in government hands

Illegal immigrants in Malaysia hiding as crackdown starts

Thousands of Indonesians, Filipinos and others working illegally in Malaysia have gone into hiding after authorities arrested at least 560 migrants on the first day of a crackdown, officials said yesterday.
Home Minister Azmi Khalid pledged that Malaysia would persist with the crackdown, rejecting fears by human rights groups that suspects might be mistreated in custody.
"Compared to Guantanamo Bay, we are a five-star hotel," the minister said, referring to the U.S. naval base in Cuba where terrorist suspects are held. "We do not do things that are inhumane. This is our guarantee."
The papers of 5,521 migrant workers were checked Tuesday and 563 were taken into custody after being found to be illegal, Azmi told reporters. Human rights groups and local media earlier said 860 were detained. Officials did not explain the differing figures.
The Philippine Foreign Affairs Department in Manila said 216 illegal Filipino workers were arrested in Malaysia's Sandakan town on Borneo island. Malaysian officials could not immediately confirm whether these were part of the 563 confirmed arrests.
About 300,000 police, immigration officials and volunteers are taking part in the crackdown against about 400,000 illegal workers still in Malaysia after a four-month amnesty for them to leave expired Tuesday. About 450,000 are believed to have left during the amnesty.
Those caught during the crackdown face fines, jail term and caning before deportation, and are to be barred from ever coming back to Malaysia. Those who left during the amnesty are welcome to return once they have the proper documentation.
Azmi said those detained were mainly Indonesians and Filipinos, but a small number of Westerners were nabbed for working illegally despite entering on social visas. They included 23 from France, five from Britain, two from the United States and one each from Italy and Croatia.
Also arrested were two Malaysian employers who hired illegal workers.
Azmi said illegal migrants from Indonesia's tsunami-hit Aceh would not be deported.
"We will be sympathetic and we will not send them back," he said.
Azmi also denied claims by rights group Tenaganita that 100 Bangladeshi workers were detained by officials at Malaysia's main airport when they tried to board a flight home Tuesday.
Separately, immigration enforcement chief Ishak Mohamad said teams would check hideouts of illegal migrants, including in forests.
"Due to the massive publicity on our preparations, they have deserted their colonies and settlements and gone into hiding," the New Straits Times cited him as saying.
Border checks also have been tightened to prevent illegals from slipping into Thailand and returning later, officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
They said a Malaysian and his Indonesian girlfriend who did not have travel documents were arrested in southern Penang state. The Malaysian would be charged with harboring an illegal and faces a hefty fine.
Foreign workers from Indonesia, the Philippines, Bangladesh and India form the backbone of Malaysia's construction and plantation industries, doing low-paid jobs that Malaysians won't do. Some 1 million foreigners work here legally.
The Malaysian government has vowed to evict all the illegal workers, who are blamed by many here for crime in cities.


Updated : 2021-10-29 04:00 GMT+08:00