PETALING JAYA: I was a victim of the police, claims a young foreigner studying in Malaysia.
Recounting how he was confronted by six plainclothes police officers while walking home in Kuala Lumpur at night, Ahmat Ali Zen, a 22-year-old from the African nation of Chad, said he was in fear throughout the incident.
“I didn’t know what was going on. They pinned me down, injuring my arm.
“They didn’t talk. They took my phone and turned it off before making me go with them in an unmarked car.
“I don’t want this to happen to my friends,” he said.
Other bona fide foreign students like him have also claimed to be targets of indiscriminate enforcement, said the Malaysian Association of Private Colleges and Universities (Mapcu).
The association has received numerous complaints from its member institutions on the predicament faced by their foreign students.
At the recent Mapcu annual general meeting, its president Datuk Parmjit Singh said private higher learning institutions had expressed their frustration at how international students were being treated by enforcement agencies.
Parmjit, who is also co-founder and executive director of Asia Pacific University of Technology and Innovation (APU), said the most recent incident was Ahmat’s detention on June 28.
The APU student was “unnecessarily arrested” and only released on July 1 after the university had intervened, said Parmjit.
Ahmat was arrested at Sri Petaling at 10pm. He told the university he had been manhandled and handcuffed despite possessing a valid Government-issued iKad.
“His passport with a valid visa was produced on June 29, but even that wasn’t enough to secure an innocent man’s release.
“When we finally went to get him on July 1, there were blood stains on his white shirt,” said Parmjit, adding that a police report over the wrongful detention had been lodged.
He attributed such cases to the zeal to control the influx of illegal immigrants.
In the process, he said, the authorities are destroying public perception of international students in Malaysia, and making bona fide students suffer.
“They are being victimised.
“In addition, local colleges and universities are harassed with unreasonable and infeasible regulatory requirements, including having to comply with archaic immigration processes,” he told The Star.
While the association is “fully supportive” of raids to flush out illegal immigrants, frequent operations done dispassionately and indiscriminately have traumatised innocent students, he said.
“The raids are done when students are having their meals near their accommodation, when they are out with their friends, or when travelling to and from their universities,” he said, adding that some enforcement officers even wear masks and hoods.
The most common reasons for the arrest and detention of genuine students involve documentation.
Parmjit said iKads and Education Malaysia Global Services (EMGS) documentation are not recognised.
EMGS, a wholly-owned company of the Education Ministry, operates a one-stop centre for international student services together with the Immigration Department.
“The iKad was gazetted as a valid identification document on Feb 22 last year.
“And in cases where they’ve handed their passports to the authorities for visa renewal, students are still taken away because the EMGS documents they produce aren’t accepted.”
Even when their passports are eventually produced at the detention centres, students continue to be detained for several nights while their passports are sent to Putrajaya for verification, he said.
“This is despite their institutions and embassies producing all supporting documents to confirm the students’ status.
“Worse still, if these raids are held towards the end of the week, the students would remain in lockups throughout the weekend because the relevant officers would not be around to sign off on their release.”
Meanwhile, these students languish in lockups, with all their belongings being forcibly taken from them, including their mobile phones and wallets, leaving them totally helpless and unable to contact anyone who might be able to help them, said Parmjit.
They are also not allowed to make any phone calls, and end up having to plead so that they can send messages to their families regarding their whereabouts.
He said in many cases, neither the institutions nor the embassies are informed of the students’ detention, despite this being a requirement.
“Institutions and embassy officials are then sent on a wild goose chase to try and locate the students,” he added.
“While all this is happening, the students’ parents are in a state of panic thousands of miles away, with no clue as to where their children are and whether they are safe.
“Our international students now live in fear and trepidation every time they leave their accommodation – not from potentially being robbed, but from being accosted and detained by those who should be protecting them.”
While Parmjit admits that a few bad apples in the industry are bringing in foreigners under student visas for purposes other than to study, he said the number is small.
“The vast majority of law-abiding, compliant international students suffer just because of the actions of a few.
“We have been calling for a clampdown on unethical errant institutions for years.
“Finally, the authorities are taking action to resolve this longstanding issue, but legit students are now being harassed.”