MELAKA: The state is calling for better coordination of the Federal Government’s programme to repatriate undocumented immigrants following reports of fake Covid-19 test slips.
“The repatriation of these illegal immigrants must be managed effectively to prevent locals, including Immigration officers, from contracting the disease.
“There must be authorised agencies to ensure that illegal immigrants possess genuine Covid-19 test certificates before allowing them to travel to apply for amnesty,” said Chief Minister Datuk Seri Sulaiman Md Ali in an interview.
Concerns that middlemen were supplying forged documents, including Covid-19 test certificates, were first raised by the state’s unity, human resources and consumer affairs committee chairman Datuk A.R. Ismail Othman.
He claimed that many immigrants were computer-illiterate, and were being taken advantage of by middlemen during appointment scheduling through the Online Appointment System (STO).
The middlemen, he alleged, were mostly of the same nationality as the immigrants and had been living in the country for some time.
It’s learnt that the Immigration Department had acted against some middlemen for helping the foreign workers register for the programme without following procedure.
The middlemen would charge RM1,000 to RM1,500 per person to aid in their programme registration without using the STO.
The labour and repatriation recalibration plans were introduced on Nov 16, 2020, as an initiative to reduce the number of undocumented foreigners in the country.
The plan has been extended until the end of this year, and the Immigration Department has discouraged the use of middlemen or agent services.
Immigrants must have travel documents issued by their embassies, tickets to their home country as well as produce a polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test slip which should be valid for 72 hours from the time of their flight.
Melaka Consumer and Environment Association’s head of welfare bureau Azizah Harun said these immigrants could pose a danger to locals, especially taxi and e-hailing drivers, as they would need to get to their embassies to return to their homeland.
“For instance, an immigrant from Jasin still needs to go down to Kuala Lumpur to get his documents and the RT-PCR test result to produce at the Immigration counter at exit points, 72 hours before returning to their homeland,” she added.
Azizah said the programme to repatriate undocumented immigrants was a good move, but needed to be fine-tuned.
She said many of these illegal immigrants were also not aware of how to go about applying for amnesty.
“Many of these illegals don’t use the opportunity for amnesty, probably due to two factors: they are afraid of being detained or are technologically-illiterate,” she added.
Azizah suggested that locals with experience in managing foreign workers be given an opportunity to assist in the repatriation of undocumented immigrants, so that middlemen would be redundant.
“We can hold the locals responsible if they fail to observe the SOP (standard operating procedure) when sending back these immigrants,” she said.
An activist who manages foreign workers’ matters said middlemen still existed despite the Immigration Department having placed the right mechanism to ensure a smooth repatriation process.
John Gananathan said he has handled 20 immigrants who were deceived by middlemen.
“The issuance of fake RT-PCR tests is still prevalent and this is the reason we can see these foreigners stuck at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA).
“If we go to KLIA now, there are a number of these immigrants not even observing the SOP,” he added.
The Immigration Department has yet to respond to The Star’s queries as at press time.