BANDAR BAHARU: Residents of the border villages in this Kedah district sensed something amiss when many pairs of shoes vanished early on Wednesday (April 20) morning.
This happened after hundreds of undocumented migrants escaped from the Relau temporary Immigration depot here.
Kampung Paya Semambu resident Norliza Ahmad, 49, said she realised the family's shoes had gone missing at 5.30am when she was preparing the sahur meal.
"When I woke up to prepare sahur, I heard a noise outside and saw hundreds of people running along the road.
"At first I didn't suspect anything... after that I found three pairs of our shoes missing," she said.
She was later told by her fellow villagers that many of the detainees escaped barefoot and had to steal shoes from the nearby houses to protect their feet as they fled into the jungle.
Another villager Zaitun Embi, 43, said in addition to missing shoes, she found numerous footprints around the oil palm plantation behind her house.
"At night, we heard dogs barking non-stop. Some of the escapees may have gone into the plantation to seek shelter," she added.
Zaitun said she was worried that her house might become an easy target for escaped detainees looking for food, as it was isolated and situated deep inside the plantation.
She added that she would provide food to anyone who came and asked for it out of humanity, but would report the matter to the authorities.
She hoped that the authorities could locate the remaining escapees and return them to the depot for the villagers' safety.
Plantation worker Rosdi Abu Seman, 48, said he discovered two sets of footprints when he started work on Thursday (April 21) morning.
"I saw one set of prints first and then a smaller set close by, going into the plantation," he said.
Rosdi believed the escapees probably became separated from the others and were looking for food.
He said it was likely they would seek refuge in the hills around the villages or at nearby durian farms.
Kampung Sungai Rambai villager Zainab Awang, 62, said she heard that some of the detainees were on a hunger strike a few days before Wednesday's riot and mass breakout.
"They refused to eat when the guards brought the food to them... that is what I heard," she said.
She added, however, that she had no idea what caused the detainees to behave like that.
Zainab said she heard some detainees say they were willing to run off and die rather than continue staying at the detention centre during the escape.
Kampung Paya Semambu Village Development and Security Committee (JPKK) member Harun Ahmad said the villagers should be on the alert after the escape and notify the authorities if they saw any suspicious movement near their homes.
A total of 130 undocumented migrants who escaped from the depot are still at large.
A manhunt by the police and Immigration personnel is under way.
On Wednesday, a protest at around 5am by approximately 650 Rohingya detainees quickly turned into a riot.
About 500 of them then broke out of the depot and around 10 were killed during the escape, struck by vehicles as they attempted to cross the highway.
It is understood that most of the Rohingya there were previously detained in operations by various agencies in Langkawi.