Saturday, September 12, 2009

Crackdown on human smuggling, mastermind sought

By NELSON BENJAMIN

JOHOR BARU: Human smuggling syndicates are housing foreigners, including refugees, in budget hotels and service apartments before getting them on boats to other countries, including Australia.

Police and immigration officials, in recent weeks, detained at least three groups of foreigners in Senai and Johor Baru, arresting more than 130, including Sri Lankans and Afghans.

In most cases, the syndicates charged between US$10,000 (RM35,000) and US$12,000 (RM42,000) for each foreigner. This covered the necessary documents to enter Malaysia as tourists via the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, food and accommodation in the country, and the boat ride from Johor.

Sources said many of the boatmen employed knew the area and were familiar with the operations mounted by government agencies.

Many of the foreigners, the sources added, had rich relatives abroad willing to fund their escape to countries like Australia and Canada.

In the latest raid on Tuesday, the state Immigration Department and police detained 116 Sri Lankan citizens in a service apartment in Johor Baru.

Sources said the foreigners had arrived in batches since July, occupying at least 17 rooms.

It is learnt that police were looking for locals and Sri Lankans to assist in investigations.

Last week, eight Sri Lankans were arrested in a budget hotel in the city where they had been staying for about a month.

“They stayed in the rooms all the time, and only one person came down during meal times to buy food from nearby stalls,” the source added.

All the Sri Lankans have been sent to the temporary holding depot in Pekan Nenas, Pontian.

State Immigration Department director Mohd Nasri Ishak said investigations were continuing to identify the mastermind behind the syndicates.

“We carry out operations based on information we receive,” he said, adding that for the first eight months of the year, 3,899 illegals of at least 20 nationalities had been arrested.

Mohd Nasri added that Indonesians topped the list with 2,376, followed by Bangladeshis (620) and Myanmars (146).

He urged those with information to contact the department hotline at 07-2221920. - The Star

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