Congo traveller says he suffered ‘30 hours of hell’ at KLIA

PETALING JAYA: A programme manager with a Congolese non-profit association is crying foul over his 30-hour confinement at a detention centre here for purportedly entering the country without following guidelines.

Simon Idi, who is in charge of programmes at the Fonds pour les Femmes Congolaises (Fund for Congolese Women – FFC) had arrived here from the Democratic Republic of Congo to represent the association at a meeting of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) organised by the Prospera International Network of Women’s Funds.

Upon arriving at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on July 23, the FFC claimed, Simon was taken to immigration control despite precisely following guidelines on entering Malaysia.

“While being detained, Simon met other travellers from India, Guinea, Gambia, Nigeria, South Sudan, and Somalia. They were all held in freezing cold cells without bedding or access to medication. They had to pay for their food and water, as well as being charged for their time in detention in order to leave the country.

“It is clear from reading Simon’s account that the Malaysian officials’ decision to confine these travellers was racially motivated and to prevent people from countries that are in conflict or considered less developed from entering the country, even when they came legally.

“Simon and the other detainees he encountered systematically had their human rights violated,” the FFC said in a statement.

FFC is an organisation that focuses on the fight against sexual and gender-based violence, environmental justice, female leadership, the fight against HIV/AIDS and women in peace negotiations.

In relating his ordeal, Simon said he had been invited to attend a conference in Malaysia with international partners, with the Ethiopian Airlines flight ET638 landing at the KLIA at 5pm on July 23.

Simon said when he got off the tarmac, he headed straight for the train and then presented himself to immigration officers. He was asked to go into quarantine for a medical test.

He said an immigration officer asked him several questions, including how much money had carried on him and he said US$100.

“I told her I had US$100. She yelled ‘$100?’. She drove me out of her office and told me to go get some money. She said that by law I needed US$2,000 in cash to enter Malaysian territory.

“I tried to explain that I was invited and my stay was supported but this was in vain. I had noted that the visa application stated that US$100 was enough if the traveller had his Visa card,” he said.

Simon was later taken to a detention room, after he had been asked to remove his sandals and put them in his suitcase.

In the detention room, Simon said he found many people, such as Indians, Guineans, Gambians, Nigerians, Sudanese, Somalis, and Chinese. They subsequently got to know each other, Simon said, and related their ordeals of having being detained for several days.

He claimed the holding cell had two rows of chairs for about 50 people to sit and sleep. He said many sat and slept on the pavement, and water was only given once a day at mealtime for people who had paid for it.

Simon claimed he later saw immigration officers assaulting a Ugandan woman.

In the morning, a fellow detainee told Simon that he was having a strong headache. Simon said he attempted three times to communicate with the guards so that he could pass the man medication from his confiscated bag.

Eventually, he said, an officer allowed him to retrieve his medication. “I also had to pay for a bottle of water so that the man could take the pills,” he claimed.

Simon said he only managed to communicate with his contacts at Prospera and International Women’s Rights Action Watch (IWRAW) Asia Pacific when a man called Nizam from Ethiopian Airlines came to the area and agreed to help him.

His return to Congo was then arranged. Before he left, he retrieved his luggage, phones, computer and return ticket, and was handed a “detention bill” of US$130, for two nights of boarding at the cell.

“I strongly condemn the inhumane, humiliating and degrading conditions inflicted on travellers for an unjustified reason, not to mention the money to pay in these cells.

“I was lucky enough to go out after 30 hours of hell. I never thought I would live this kind of ordeal with the immigration services of Malaysia. I hope that in the future the perpetrators of these actions are condemned and that this kind of humiliating system is abolished,” he added.

FMT has reached out to Immigration Department director-general Mustafar Ali for his comments and is awaiting his response.