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Ghosts in the Malaysian immigration system

August 18, 2017

The influx of foreigners into the country brings added responsibilities and complexity in securing the borders and tracking those already in the country.

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By Nur Jazlan Mohamed

Malaysia is a blessed country where shared prosperity is the guiding principle in maintaining peace and stability among its citizens.

However in recent years, our economic success has resulted in an influx of foreign labour that attracts all types of migrants from various countries  trying their luck to build a future for themselves here.

Initially many will come forward and introduce themselves to the government. Thus, registration authorities are able to collect their biometric data and work permits are issued to them so that they have legal status within our system.

While some treat their adventure here as a temporary thing, benefitting from the hospitality of locals, increasingly many more want to make this country their home and they try to beat the system by remaining invisible so that they may stay here illegally, earning more and eventually they bring their families over.

This influx of foreigners into the country brings added responsibilities and complexity in securing our borders and tracking those already in the country.

I had the chance to experience first-hand how the sudden influx of foreigners impacted the German authorities last May.

In 2015, Germany and Europe had struggled to cope with the influx of millions of refugees, which continues to be a bane for them today. Germany alone had to process 1.2 million refugees in one year.

As a signatory to the UNHCR, they are compelled under law to provide benefits to the refugees to the tune of 300 euros per month per person.

They had to scale up their IT and manpower capabilities to cope in identifying these refugees from the war in Syria. There were valid concerns of IS fighters masquerading as refugees to enter Germany and this was later proven true with the flurry of attacks all over Germany.

They also had to identify those from South Asia and Africa who were economic migrants trying to take advantage of the UNHCR system to be classified as “refugees”.

There were also elements of transnational criminals and human traffickers reaping the illegal benefits from the chaos as well.

Back here, the government has responded to the growing concerns expressed by our citizens about the number of foreigners here.

It has left a misleading perception that the numbers are larger than reported and that the government is weak in managing this issue.

The government has implemented various registration programmes namely 6P, voluntary repatriation, rehiring and online work permit application schemes to encourage illegals to come forward to register and become legal.

Employers have been advised not to employ illegals and register their workers and pay the government levies for the privilege.

However, many employers, especially the SMEs, refuse to comply as they view the levies as unnecessary and cost accretive.

They refuse to act responsibly by upgrading their technology and adapting to automation thus reducing our country’s dependence on foreign labour which would lighten our cost of managing the foreign workers in the country.

The government has to incur huge costs to upgrade the 20-year-old MyImms system through the SKIN revamp which enables the Immigration Department to upgrade from just recording numbers of visitors going in and out to verifying individuals using biometric data like facial and iris recognition.

The Immigration Department is currently on an all-out enforcement offensive to arrest and deport illegals and punish errant employers.

At the same time, the Home Ministry is also currently working on a solution to improve its biometric registration of the 150,000 refugee UNHCR cardholders.

There is a possibility that this number could double as the data given by UNHCR does not include those who are classified as persons of concern, meaning people who are in the process of applying to be a UNHCR refugee card holder.

UNHCR does the vetting and record keeping of these refugees while they await relocation to a third country. Basically Malaysia is a transit point before they are moved to a host nation.

The Home Ministry appreciates the good work that UNHCR is doing even though we are not a signatory to the refugees’ convention and Malaysia will continue to host these refugees as they wait for their relocation.

However, UNHCR must understand that there are genuine national security concerns that need to be addressed here, and that is there are over 150,000 unknown people residing in the country of which we have very scant information in terms of who they are, where they reside and how long they have been here.

Biometric data such as fingerprints, facial and iris recognition are becoming the world’s standard amongst enforcement agencies in solving crimes, combatting fraud and reassuring the public. Without biometric data it is very difficult to enforce these security measures.

Although the UNHCR card does have a unique bar code imprinted on it that ensures its validity, it doesn’t mean much if the card does not contain useful information that is connected to an integrated database.

The home ministry cannot allow these ‘ghosts’ to simply reside in our country as they pose a security loophole, what more when every single Malaysian is subjected to an identification card with biometric information registered in our system.

It would be hypocritical for us to simply allow a foreign body to manage hundreds and thousands of these ‘ghosts’ without us knowing anything much about it and at the same time are given leeway that even our citizens do not enjoy.

We at the home ministry have a responsibility in ensuring the security within our borders. It is this security that acts as the backbone to the peace and economic prosperity of this nation that attracted foreigners to come here in the first place and for this to happen we must extinguish ‘ghosts’ within our borders.

Nur Jazlan Mohamed is the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs.

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