KUCHING: The Immigration Department will focus its enforcement operations in plantation estates throughout the state to weed out illegal immigrants.
Outgoing state director Datuk Mohd Zulfikar Ahmad said enforcement operations would be conducted on a daily basis to check plantation workers for valid passes and to ensure they abide by the pass’ terms and conditions.
“We have divided our enforcement operations by zones. We will focus in Kuching for the first quarter of the year, then Sibu, Miri and other parts of Sarawak. Our operations will be based on our intelligence and information provided to us,” he told The Borneo Post yesterday.
On general enforcement operations, Mohd Zulfikar said as of yesterday they had conducted 66 operations this year, with some 4,000 foreigners screened and 192 detained.
Last year, he said the department conducted 494 enforcement operations and checked nearly 17,000 foreigners and arrested 1,888, adding that the operations conducted last year was double the number conducted in 2014.
Mohd Zulfikar said the most common offences committed by those detained were staying without a valid pass, overstaying as well as working without a valid and proper pass.
He said based on the operations conducted and feasibility study conducted by the department, there could be some 30,000 illegal immigrants in the state — far below the over 200,000 illegal immigrants claimed by certain quarters.
“If there are 200,000 illegal immigrants in the state, surely you will see many of them mingling or roaming in villages, towns and city areas. When we conducted our operations, many of those who were screen had valid passes,” he said.
On the challenges faced by the department’s enforcement team, Mohd Zulfikar said besides the wide geographical area of the state, they also faced trying to change the mindset of the public.
“Sometimes the public when they look at the foreigners, they always think that the foreigners do not have any permit. On our part, we will focus more on checking the foreigners so that we know whether they have a pass or not,” he said.
In terms of enforcement manpower, he said the department would have around 200 officers throughout the state after the fulfilment of 100 vacancies by early March.
“On top of that, we still have another 150 vacancies in Sarawak. So if we could fulfil all the vacant posts, we would have 350 officers, which is sufficient for enforcement.”
As the first line of defence, Mohd Zulfikar said his enforcement officers needed to be constantly equipped with the latest knowledge and screening methods, besides providing them with better facilities and equipment such as firearms.
“Even at the airport, our equipment to examine travel documents are outdated already. If we could have the latest equipment, it would help us in our job,” he pointed out.
Meanwhile, Mohd Zulfikar said operating hours at Merapok control post had been extended from 10pm to midnight since
Feb 1 with more thorough screenings conducted.
“As of now, about 2,000 people had been screened at the control post. Since the extension of operation hours at all five entry points in the northern part of Sarawak from 10pm to midnight starting Sept 1, last year, about 200,000 people had been screened.”
He said the department would also open counters at the Urban Transformation Centre (UTC) in Sibu and Miri this month as well as the Rural Transformation Centre in Betong.
“Our Sri Aman office will soon be upgraded from a passport application receiving office to be the passport issuing office. This will facilitate those in Sri Aman, Betong and their surrounding areas in their applications for passports.”