Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Cabinet Extends Amnesty Offer To Illegal Immigrants

PUTRAJAYA, Feb 2 (Bernama) -- The Cabinet Wednesday agreed to extend the amnesty offer for illegal immigrant workers to leave the country, which expired last Monday, to a date yet to be fixed.

Home Affairs Minister Datuk Azmi Khalid, who announced the decision, said illegal immigrants who did not accept the offer to return to their home country during the amnesty period would be barred permanently from re-entering Malaysia again.

He said the authorities would continue their operation against illegal immigrants and those caught would be advised to leave quickly after their personal particulars were recorded and their fingerprints taken.

"During the amnesty offer period, if the same illegal immigrants are caught again after they had been given a reasonable time to leave -- we expect them to take a week to week -- they will be blacklisted and their fingerprints taken a second time. They will then be deported to their home country and barred from returning to Malaysia to work," he told reporters.

The amnesty was introduced on Oct 29 for 17 days prior to Aidilfitri but, following an appeal from Indonesia, it was extended to Dec 31 and again to Jan 31 after the Dec 26 earthquake and tsunami disaster struck northern Sumatra.

Azmi said there were requests by the Philippines and Indonesia to have the amnesty extended, including a written one from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Indonesian State Secretary Yusril Ihza Mahendra had met Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi yesterday to present the request.

Azmi said Malaysia acceded to the request out of sympathy for the burden carried by Indonesia in dealing with the aftermath of the terrible destruction caused by the earthquake and tsunami.

The Indonesian Embassy in Malaysia was also busy handling relief aid for the tsunami survivors besides helping Indonesian nationals to obtain the necessary travel papers to return home, he said.

He said there would be some people who would accuse the government of being "soft" on illegal immigrants.

"We may appear to be soft but we certainly are not slack. We are firm (on wanting illegal immigrants to leave)," he said.

Asked if this would be the final extension, he said: "I want to make it final."

He acknowledged the decision to extend the deadline would not go down well with the people who looked to the government to take drastic actions to check the influx of illegal immigrants.

However, he said, the government had to consider the issue from all aspects. "There are other matters that we have to weigh," he added.

"It may look bad in the eyes of some Malaysians. But from the international perspective, we will not look so bad because the international community is also looking at us with respect on how we deal with relations between two countries."

He said Malaysia's move to extend the amnesty had also paid dividend as more than 400,000 illegal immigrants had taken up the offer and left.

Azmi said the Indonesian government had also allowed Malaysian immigration officers to be stationed at certain locations in Indonesia to speed up the processing of Indonesians who wished to return to Malaysia legally after they took up the amnesty offer to leave.

Meanwhile, Human Resources Minister Datuk Wira Dr Fong Chan Onn said employers should take advantage of the latest extension to send their illegal workers home and then bring them back through legal channels.

He said employers must understand there were no shortcuts to employing foreign workers and they must follow the law.

"In the long-term these illegal workers can jeopardize national security," he told reporters at his office.

He said his ministry had received many appeals from employers who claimed their operations would be affected if their illegal workers were deported.

-- BERNAMA

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