PETALING JAYA: Putrajaya has been forced into overdrive as it prepares to cope with a sudden deluge of illegal immigrants, a situation Malaysia has not faced in a long time.
Department heads huddled at an emergency meeting to discuss how to manage the 1,158 immigrants who were found on the shores of Langkawi on Monday.
The senior officials were also planning for an even worse scenario – reports say that some 8,000 illegals are still on boats in the high seas, all waiting to land on Malaysian soil in the next few days.
Home Ministry secretary-general Datuk Alwi Ibrahim said the emergency meeting was chaired by deputy secretary-general (security) Datuk Seri Adenan Ab Rahman and attended by representatives from the police, the National Security Council, the Immigration Department and the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency.
Deputy Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar was emphatic that Malaysia could not continue to host thousands of illegal immigrants.
“Malaysia has been showing good human faith, which entices people to come here,” said Dr Wan Junaidi.
It is believed that about 25,000 Bangladeshis and Rohingya Muslims boarded boats headed for Malaysia in the first three months of this year, twice as many as in the same period in 2014.
Most landed in Thailand, where they were held by smugglers in squalid jungle camps.
However, the crackdown by Thailand has forced many boats to stay at sea.
“Up to 8,000 people are still at sea,” International Organisation for Migration spokesman Joe Lowry said.
It is believed that Home Ministry enforcement agencies, including Immigration, have been directed to further strengthen security at sea and land borders.
He said the 1,158 immigrants who were found on Langkawi were declared as illegals and would be handed over to the Immigration Department.
“They will be moved to the Belantik detention depot in Sik, Kedah, with the help of the police, the National Security Council and the navy.
“Several non-governmental organisations will also be helping with some necessities such as clothing,” said Dr Wan Junaidi.
The immigrants were temporarily housed at the Langkawi International Shooting Range.
The Star’s Malay portal mStar reported that the illegal immigrants would be sent to detention depots in stages.
A source said the Belantik depot already houses 1,000 immigrants and has a maximum capacity of 2,000 people.
“Some of the 1,158 could be sent to other detention depots nearby,” said the source.
“The detained immigrants will undergo a documentation process by the Immigration Department before being deported.”