KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah Immigration Department will conduct a study on the so-called loophole that is said to have allowed the passage of suspected Abu Sayyaf militants into the country.
Sabah immigration director Musa Sulaiman told FMT that previously, Labuan was part of Sabah, which meant that people could freely travel between the two places.
“After Labuan became a federal territory, the regulations, which said people coming to and leaving Sabah needed to have their travel documents checked by immigration, applied.
“However, to continue the freedom of movement between Sabah and Labuan, an exception order to the regulations was made in 1984.
“We will conduct a study to check if the exception order has a weakness, and if necessary, we will improve it to bolster our security measures.”
This was after Parti Warisan Sabah (Warisan) deputy president Darell Leiking today said the government’s nonchalant attitude towards immigration checks may have contributed to suspected Abu Sayyaf elements creeping into the country.
Leiking’s remarks followed reports that seven suspected militants were detained in Kuala Lumpur by the Bukit Aman Special Branch Counter Terrorism Division on Sep 14.
Police said the suspects had entered Malaysia from southern Philippines through Sandakan before heading to Kuala Lumpur in 2015.
It was later reported that the suspects could have flown to Kuala Lumpur from Labuan.
Leiking had pointed to the now famous “Menumbok-Jesselton Point loophole”, which he said had caused several immigration breaches over the years.
He was referring to two ferry terminals in Sabah through which people travel between the state and Labuan island.
News reports quoted police as saying the suspected Abu Sayyaf group members had used fake travel documents to reach Kuala Lumpur.
Every passenger from Kota Kinabalu to Kuala Lumpur must go through document checks, while from Labuan, Musa said the department had started document checks at the Labuan airport in July.
Denying that the department was taking a lackadaisical attitude towards the matter, Musa said the problem had been blown out of proportion by the opposition party.
“We do randomly check suspicious passengers passing through the Menumbok and Jesselton Point ferry terminals.
“The issue has long been given attention and the situations at both ferry terminals are under control. The opposition party is blowing the matter out of proportion.
“In fact, we arrested 288 Philippine, Indonesian, Indian, Pakistani and Chinese nationals at the Menumbok ferry terminal from 2010 to 2015.”
Musa said his department had to strike a balance between document checks and people’s travel comfort at the Labuan airport.
“We can’t over-scrutinise travel documents at the airport because it would impede travel flow,” he said.
“We have to strike a balance between ensuring all travel documents are genuine and the comfort of travellers.
“Nevertheless, in July, we started checking documents of people leaving Labuan for Kuala Lumpur.”
Claiming that the issue had been long outstanding, Leiking earlier said he had demanded that the home ministry explain the lack of immigration checkpoints at the Menumbok and Jesselton Point ferry jetties at the Dewan Rakyat back in 2013.
“This was to ensure that only those with valid travel documents or passports are allowed to land and pass the guard posts or customs checks,” Leiking said in a statement.
He said he had subsequently highlighted the issue to the media in March 2015 when the Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak, Richard Malanjum, had questioned the presence of a large number of Pakistani nationals in the state.
“I have specifically pointed out that this loophole has caused us problems big time.
“We will continue to do so unless Chief Minister Musa Aman and his state Barisan Nasional cabinet ministers act immediately to rectify the matter,” he said.