State losing control over border crossing

oil palm plantation

(Borneo Post) – Influx of illegal foreign workers caused by plantation’s encroachment into buffer zone, authorities unable to stem flow

KUCHING: The porosity of the border caused by the breaching of buffer zones between Sarawak and Kalimantan by oil palm plantations is one of the reasons why there are some 300,000 illegal foreign workers in the state.

This was revealed to The Borneo Post by Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Dato Sri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar yesterday.

“Our buffer zones at the border areas have been breached by the oil palm plantations and there seemed nothing we could do about it. Now the so-called ‘jalan tikus’ (secret jungle paths) have become ‘jalan gajah’ (big roads), thus allowing people to cross the border without needing travel passes,” said Wan Junaidi.

Wan Junaidi, who is also the MP for Santubong, said he had briefed the state government on the matter and hoped the enforcement agencies such as the Police and Immigration Department would help to curb movements of people across the border.

The border areas most affected by the breaching of the buffer zone are in Bau, especially Kpg Stass and Serikin. Other areas include Long Busang in Belaga and Ba Kelalan in Lawas.

“There is a suggestion to put up security fencing at strategic areas along the 2,000km border between Sarawak and Kalimantan. But it’s going to be very expensive and we have to get the Indonesian Government to agree on the matter as well,” Wan Junaidi added.

Recently, Indonesian Consul-General in Kuching, Jahar Gultom, revealed that at least 400,000 Indonesians were believed to be working in Sarawak now, especially in plantations and factories but only about 110,000 of them were documented by his office.

On another issue, Wan Juniadi said middlemen who took advantage of Malaysia’s thriving economy were the main culprits in bringing down the country’s image among the international community.

He said these middlemen were often very unscrupulous in their dealings even to the point of trafficking people into the country.

“A case in point is the recent case of 10 Indian nationals who were duped by their own countrymen to work in palm oil plantations in Sibu but were initially they were offered to work in factories,” he said.

Wan Juniadi said the case had become international headlines and was one of the reasons why Malaysia’s rating by the United States watch list was downgraded from Tier 2 last year to Tier 3, which classified Malaysia as a country where trafficking in persons was rampant.

“The government is taking the matter very seriously and now we have set up a cabinet committee to look into the issue seriously and find ways to improve the situation,” added Wan Junaidi.

Recently, Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Edgard Kagan, told The Borneo Post that one of the areas which concerned the bilateral ties between his country and Malaysia was trafficking in persons.

To improve the current situation, he suggested the Malaysian government combat the trafficking of persons through better treatment of victims, prosecution of persons who organised the trafficking and improve the legal status of victims while their cases were being heard.

“By improving the legal framework in recognising the issues so that these things are quite positive as the government has agreed that these issues need to be addressed, they have taken steps to address them and we are working very closely together,” Kagan said.