Illegal migrant routes along Malaysia-Thailand border still open and in use

Traders waiting for customers at the Wang Prachan market in Satun, Thailand. PHOTO: THE STAR/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK

PADANG BESAR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK)- The lane starts deep inside the forest behind a rubber tree estate in Felcra Lubuk Sireh. It takes an hour and a half to get there on a motorcycle. Walking there will take four hours.

Then, it's a leisurely 45-minute walk. After that, you are in Thailand, in a village known as Ban Telok.

Nine months after the crackdown on human trafficking camps along the border, illegal routes - commonly known as lorong tikus - are still open and being actively used.

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A villager, who wished to be known only as Ahmad, led The Star's team to the route which he deemed to be the most active one.

He warned against using the route as no one would know "who or what was waiting on the other side".

In October last year, it was reported that a Thai man in his 40s was shot while trying to enter Malaysia via Chuping.

He was found by General Operations Forces (PGA) personnel and the Malaysian police believed he was shot by a homemade pistol based on the slug retrieved.

"Most Rohingyas who enter our country illegally use this path. As this place is so deep in the forest, there is no fencing or border walls here, just stone border markings,'' said Ahmad.

"We discovered a few Rohingya bodies a few months before the news broke last year about the mass graves in Wang Kelian.

"We even led the police to the spot where they brought out the bodies. I think they might have died because they were too hungry and tired," added Ahmad, who works in the rubber estate.

He said there were three other illegal forest crossings that he had heard of, but he was unsure of how to get there.

He also said that he had seen foreigners ("they look like Rohingyas or Bangladeshis") walking in a small group in the forest.

"They hide if they hear sounds of people nearby. We don't dare to confront them because they might be aggressive," he added.

Ahmad's last encounter with them was last year before the news of the mass graves broke in May. After that, he had not encountered any foreign faces in the forest.

Perlis police chief Senior Asst Comm Shafie Ismail also believes there are illegal pathways between Thailand and Malaysia.

He said there were many Thai nationals who come over to Perlis to work as rubber tappers and a number of them cross the border illegally.

SAC Shafie said there were illegal routes deep in the forest behind Felcra Lubuk Sireh and the border fencing in Felcra Chuping was also cut open several times at different locations.

He assured that the Perlis border was secure from any intrusion or any cross-border crimes.

"I can guarantee the safety of Perlis and also that there are no other new human trafficking camps here besides the ones discovered last year.

"Besides having personnel patrolling 24 hours, we also have 350 PGA patrolling the Malaysian-Thailand border in Perlis,'' he said.

"We also use drones to monitor the border. We are aware of the illegal routes and are monitoring them.

"Illegal immigrants or human traffickers cannot use the routes with our increased enforcement.

"But we are not ruling out the possibility that their modus operandi might have changed and that they may be coming over in smaller groups of two people instead of larger groups," headded.

SAC Shafie said a total of 2,329 illegal immigrants were arrested last year, of which 1,156 were Myanmar nationals, 548 Bangladeshis and the rest Indonesians and Thais.

During the Ops Wawasan Khas in May last year, the police found 139 graves around 28 transit camps abandoned by human trafficking syndicates in Wang Burma hill and Wang Perah hill here.

The skeletal remains of 106 victims were found and have been buried in a mass grave in Kampung Tualang, Pokok Sena, near Alor Star.

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