PUTRAJAYA: The 30th witness at the royal commission of inquiry (RCI) into the Wang Kelian human trafficking camps and mass graves said it was difficult to extract information on human trafficking syndicates from their victims as they had been coached to give similar statements.
The former state director of the Immigration Department in Perlis, Mohd Amir Othman, was responding to a question on whether or not he had asked the illegal immigrants if they were brought into Malaysia by force through syndicates or if they had paid any syndicates.
“They had been taught what to say to us (the authorities) during investigations. They would say they paid a fee on the other side (the Thai side of the border) and came into Malaysia voluntarily and were not brought here by force.”
Amir said it was difficult getting the illegal immigrants to give their cooperation on investigations into the syndicates, with some “complicit” in the actual operations.
He was unsure if immigration and police officials were also involved in these syndicates.
“In Perlis, I do not recall any immigration officials being involved,” he told the RCI.
He also said some illegals willingly gave themselves up as they felt that staying in immigration depots was “easier” than in jungle camps.
“Many felt they would be issued a UNHCR card and would be released.
“I think this is what attracts illegal immigrants to come here,” he said, saying those with these cards issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees believe they would be protected and could not be charged with immigration offences.
Based on his statistics, Amir said more than 2,500 illegal immigrants from Myanmar — including Rohingya — were arrested in Perlis in 2013. There were 1,100 arrests in 2014. This was a drastic increase, compared with only 568 arrests made in 2012.
However, he told the inquiry this alarming pattern was not brought up at any meetings or passed on to any other agencies.
He added that immigration officials were not involved in the arrests of 38 illegal immigrants at the foot of Wang Burma hill on Jan 19, 2015. They were investigated under Section 6 of the Immigration Act for not having an official pass or permit to stay in the country.
Lack of co-ordination among border security agencies
Meanwhile, the 32nd witness, DSP Syed Basri Syed Ali, who is the commander for the border security agency (Aksem) in Perlis, formerly known as the Anti-Smuggling Unit (UPP), said more than 600 arrests were made by the agency in 2014. He added that most were made in the forest areas in Wang Kelian.
He added they had also arrested individuals who were possibly linked to syndicates. These individuals were mostly Malaysians acting as transporters for the illegal immigrants.
Former inspector-general of police Norian Mai, who is one of the RCI members, questioned why the UPP had made more arrests than the General Operations Forces (GOF), who were seen as the first line of defence at the border.
Basri, who has been the commander of the border security agency from 2014, added that UPP at the time was stationed 2km away from the border, so the agency’s jurisdiction would not overlap with other agencies in the area. This made them the “second layer” of defence at the border.
Meanwhile, he also expressed his frustration that even now, Aksem still had to seek approval from other agencies working nearer to the border if they wanted to carry out any operations in those areas.
He said this was in practice despite the Malaysian Border Security Agency Act (2017) empowering Aksem to carry out their duties right at the border.
He added that there was a lack of coordination between the different security and enforcement agencies due to them working in isolation and being “stuck in their core businesses”.
He recommended that all border agencies act under the command of one superior body.
“Currently, there is no single agency to direct and issue commands,” he said, adding that all the various bodies also had different standard operating procedures (SOP).
Meanwhile, Basri said he first learned about the jungle camps and mass graves when briefed by ASP Joeking Marrian Anthony, fifth witness at the RCI, during a Jan 20, 2015 meeting with the then deputy police chief of Perlis.
The RCI was set up by the home ministry to look into the discovery of mass graves and human trafficking camps at Wang Kelian in 2015.
Former chief justice Arifin Zakaria leads the inquiry panel. Besides Norian Mai, the others are Noorbahri Baharuddin, Razali Ismail, Junaidah Abd Rahman, Nazirah Hussain and Tan Seng Giaw. Yusran Shah Yusof is the secretary of the RCI.
The public hearing continues tomorrow.