2 August 2002 / 21 Jumada Al Ula, 1423 AH

Malaysia begins sweep on illegals as amnesty ends

KUALA LUMPUR Malaysian police on Thursday arrested 135 illegal immigrants seeking asylum outside the UN refugee agency here in a bid to escape jailing and whipping under tough new laws, and warned of major sweeps ahead.
The immigrants, including women and children, were picked up outside the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) centre in Kuala Lumpur after the expiry of a Wednesday midnight amnesty deadline, a police spokesman said.
"They are mostly Rohingyas from Myanmar, Acehnese and other Indonesians. All of them have no legal documents and will be handed over to the immigration department," he said.
It was up to the department to decide if the detainees would face the harsh new immigration laws effective on Thursday, he said, adding that more arrests were expected.
Under the new laws, both illegal immigrants and their employers face a mandatory six months in jail and possibly up to six strokes of the cane.
Thousands of desperate illegal immigrants flooded Malaysia's ports this week in a panicked rush to return home ahead of the expiry of the amnesty, and a police spokesman said they would now begin nabbing illegal immigrants who have made no effort to flee. "We are going to launch major sweeps on certain areas with large communities of illegal workers," he said.
Immigration Director General Mohamad Jamal Kamdi was quoted by The Star newspaper as saying that some 300,000 illegal immigrants had left under the four-month amnesty which began 22 March.
He has said that illegal immigrants who could prove they were willing to leave the country would be granted a one-month grace period before being arrested.
But the Bangkok-based International Organisation for Migration said Malaysia's policies were not aligned to its manpower needs and called for a review of its migration management.
"Meting out punishment like caning on illegals is not going to resolve the problem because there is a need for them, there are employers willing to hire them," chief of mission Farooq Azam said.
Employers also warned the hasty move could paralyse the country's export-driven economy amid severe shortages in the construction and plantation sectors. AFP