By Haresh Deol
A DEAR friend was ranting on WhatsApp, appalled by recent reports that Immigration personnel at KL International Airport (KLIA) had assisted syndicates to smuggle Bangladeshis into the country.
“All those involved should be charged with treason. Allowing (undocumented) Bangladeshis through our airport is a serious matter.
“Bangladesh is also suffering from extremist uprising. We don’t know how many of them would have sneaked into Malaysia because of these personnel.
“Look at the people involved. They have been given a duty to safeguard our borders. This is so messed up on so many levels.”
I understand his frustration and couldn’t agree more.
It was widely reported on Saturday that 600 Immigration personnel had been transferred out of KLIA after some were believed to be involved in the smuggling in of Bangladeshis.
Deputy Prime Miniser Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was quoted as saying officers who have been violating the laws and working with syndicates will be dealt with.
“We do not condone such acts,” Ahmad Zahid, who is also the Home Minister, said.
This is the second time in recent months we have heard of Immigration staff being involved in smuggling.
In May 2016, a high number of Immigration staff were transferred following revelations that the Malaysian Immigration System (myIMMs) had been compromised.
Those implicated in sabotaging the system which is used to screen people entering and exiting the country were moved out from their work stations in sensitive areas, mainly at KLIA and klia2.
Let’s not forget the discovery of a secret slave camp and mass graves in Wang Kelian, Perlis, near the Malaysia-Thailand border used by human smuggling syndicates. Following the revelations, police discovered 139 sites and 28 deserted people-smuggling jungle camps there.
Throughout the years I have written about the lax border control.
In my column ‘The Threat is Real’ in The Malay Mail on July 6, 2016, I wrote: “Our porous borders allow the smuggling of people and goods in the country — a fact the authorities have repeatedly acknowledged.
“The Malaysian Immigration System has been sabotaged since 2010 — a frightening fact revealed by this newspaper on May 18. The number of those who have entered and exited the country easily remains unaccounted for.”
There are plenty of reasons to worry.
On July 1, 2016, five militants stormed the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka. A 12-hour siege ended with the deaths of 22 hostages, 18 of them foreigners.
Local officials said the attack was engineered by members of the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), a militant organisation.
For the record, one of the attackers studied at a private university in Kuala Lumpur.
On March 17, 2017, a suicide bomber attacked a camp of Bangladesh’s elite police in Dhaka.
Bangladesh has seen a rise in extremism, with the South Asia Terrorism Portal revealing, as of last December 10, there are four terrorist outfits — JMB, Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh, Harkat-ul-Jihad- al Ismali Bangladesh and Pubra Bangla Communist Party — and one extremist group Islami Chhatra Shibir operating there.
There have been cases in the past of Bangladeshis plotting terror attacks in their homeland while abroad.
Singapore had in late 2015 arrested 27 Bangladeshis, all working in the construction industry, under the Internal Security Act. Some were planning to carry out extremist activities in Bangladesh.
All 27 were repatriated.
Four Bangladeshis — Rahman Mizanur, Miah Rubel, Md Jabath Kysar Haje Norul Islam Sowdagar and Sohel Hawlader Ismail Hawlader — were sentenced to between 24 and 60 months’ jail on July 12, 2016, in Singapore — the first conviction under the Terrorism (Suppression of Financing) Act. They pleaded guilty to collecting hundreds of dollars to fund terror attacks in Bangladesh.
Earlier this month, 27-year-old Bangladeshi national Akayed Ullah triggered a stampede at one of New York’s busiest commuter hubs, leaving five injured after he set off a homemade pipe bomb strapped to his body in an Islamic State-inspired attack.
It is also wrong to just zero in on Bangladeshis alone. Extremists and terrorists hail from various backgrounds, faiths, nationalities and colour.
The fact remains that Bangladeshis, and many other foreigners in the country, contribute to the development of Malaysia. They now occupy every sector — from serving us food to building our homes.
But that should not come at the expense of national security.
Foreigners who are smuggled into the country are not screened and this poses not just a terror but also health threat.
Tuberculosis cases have skyrocketed in recent years. The authorities are unsure of the exact number of undocumented foreigners — which some claim to now be in the millions — in the country.
The culprits, especially those in uniform, who are involved in smuggling these foreigners should be charged with treason.
For a quick buck, these traitors jeopardise national security and leave us, Malaysians, vulnerable. This cannot be tolerated.
We don’t want another sandiwara where we see a handful of personnel picked up only for the matter to be forgotten tomorrow. We want to see affirmative action taken to ensure such syndicates and corrupt personnel are eradicated.
The authorities must show no mercy, especially when their own personnel are involved. Heads must roll.
Multi-award winning journalist Haresh Deol spent close to two decades in the newsroom. He last served as executive editor of Malay Mail. He is now a media and communications strategist. Haresh can be reached on Twitter (@HareshDeol) or via email: [email protected].
Bangladeshi workers have long contributed to the development of Malaysia but some of those smuggled into the country could be a security threat. (Photo an illustration only.)