More caught harbouring, hiring immigration offenders

Immigration offenders arrested in a housing unit in July 2015.
Immigration offenders arrested in a housing unit in July 2015. PHOTO: IMMIGRATION AND CHECKPOINTS AUTHORITY

59% spike last year due to coordinated enforcement efforts between agencies: ICA

More people were arrested for providing lodging or work to immigration offenders last year, with a 59 per cent spike in the number nabbed.

Statistics released by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) yesterday showed that 416 harbourers and 91 errant employers were caught last year, up from 250 and 69 respectively the year before.

The ICA attributed the rise to focused and coordinated enforcement efforts conducted with other agencies such as the police and Ministry of Manpower.

Almost half of the harbourers arrested last year were Singaporeans, the ICA said. Meanwhile, errant employers who engaged immigration offenders came from industries such as construction, food and beverage, and cleaning services.

"The current security environment needs everyone to play a part - for employers, landlords and home owners to do their due diligence," said Dr Tan Wu Meng, who sits on the Government Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs and Law.

"When people turn a blind eye to illegal activity, it makes Singapore a softer target. We must not send a wrong message that Singaporeans are complacent about safety and security," he said.

The total number of immigration offenders arrested has been falling in the past few years, and continued to decline last year by 7 per cent from 2,040 to 1,901.

Fewer illegal immigrants were arrested, with an 11 per cent dip from 350 to 310 last year. The number of overstayers caught fell by about 6 per cent, from 1,690 in 2014 to 1,591. This was due to tough enforcement and public education, the ICA said.

The total number of contraband cases detected rose by 2 per cent from 93,380 in 2014 to 95,677 last year. The items were detected through checks, including X-ray screening of packages.

The ICA also flagged the trend of more people smuggling contraband items via parcels and packages shipped into the country, as online shopping grows in popularity.

It detected 18,419 contraband cases in parcels and packages last year, up from 14,289 in 2014. Common items included stun guns and sex enhancement pills. Others included an airsoft rifle set declared as a "kids battery playset".

But there was a 62 per cent drop in the number of people convicted of marriage of convenience offences - 64 people were arrested last year, down from 170 in 2014.

The ICA said it continues to work closely with community partners; ambassadors reach out to home owners and estate agents on the need to conduct checks on potential tenants.

"In this current security climate, ICA has stepped up its border control measures and will continue to conduct stringent checks on all travellers, goods and conveyances," said ICA commissioner Clarence Yeo.

The world is on a heightened state of alert after recent terror attacks such as those in Jakarta and Paris.

Mr Yeo said: "At the same time, we urge the community, our fellow Singaporeans, to work hand in hand with us to help keep our country safe and secure."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 20, 2016, with the headline 'More caught harbouring, hiring immigration offenders'. Print Edition | Subscribe