Immigration offences down in 2017 but rise in contraband smuggling and sham marriages

Immigration offenders arrested during a joint enforcement operation. PHOTO: IMMIGRATION & CHECKPOINTS AUTHORITY
There was a rise in the number of contraband smuggling cases, with 90, 327 in 2017, up 2.6 per cent from the previous year. PHOTOS: IMMIGRATION & CHECKPOINTS AUTHORITY

SINGAPORE - The number of immigration offenders arrested in Singapore fell last year, but figures for contraband smuggling cases and people convicted for sham marriages have gone up.

According to latest figures from the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) released on Thursday (Feb 8), the number of immigration offenders arrested - which includes illegal immigrants and overstayers - dropped from 1,278 in 2016 to 1,176 last year. This figure has been falling in the past few years.

There were fewer people arrested for crossing Singapore's borders illegally, with 186 people caught in 2017, a 14.3 per cent decrease from the previous year's 217.

There was also a 6.7 per cent drop in the number of overstayers caught, from 1,061 in 2016 to 990 in 2017.

An ICA spokesman said that tough laws, stringent security checks at checkpoints and enforcement operations have been effective in keeping the immigration offenders situation "under control". It has also been working closely with other agencies like the police and Ministry of Manpower.

However, there was a rise in contraband smuggling, with 90,327 cases in 2017 - a daily average of 247 attempts - up 2.6 per cent from 88,050 the previous year. There were 95,677 such cases in 2015.

The cases thwarted by the ICA at checkpoints include attempts to smuggle people, drugs, weapons, explosives and other contraband items.

A trending concern, which had been highlighted by authorities in the past, was the use of heavy commercial vehicles to smuggle contraband.

"The sheer size of such vehicles means that large quantities of contraband items or even dangerous materials such as toxic industrial chemicals can be concealed within the consignments or modified compartments of these vehicles," said the ICA spokesman.

Security at checkpoints remain a "top priority", especially in light of the current security climate, said ICA. It will continue to devote as much resources as needed and maintain vigilant checks to stop such activities.

In October last year, there was an attempt to smuggle over 2,000 cartons of duty-unpaid cigarettes hidden in a modified compartment of a fuel tank towed by a prime mover.

In a more novel attempt in June, ICA officers uncovered 9,000 cartons of illegal cigarettes in a consignment declared as "assorted bread" in a Malaysian-registered truck.

Empty fuel bowser towed by a prime mover found with duty-unpaid cigarettes. PHOTO: IMMIGRATION & CHECKPOINTS AUTHORITY

Said ICA's Commissioner Clarence Yeo: "Despite stringent checks, smuggling attempts have not abated. As such, we urge the community to be alert and collaborate with us to keep Singapore safe and secure."

Last year also saw a rise in marriages of convenience, with 53 people convicted, up 23.3 per cent from 43 in 2016. The increase comes after a downward trend that followed an amendment to the Immigration Act in 2012 to criminalise such marriages.

In a case late last year, ICA investigators uncovered a sham marriage syndicate and arrested 12 people - six Singaporean men and six Vietnamese "wives".

Ten of them have been sentenced to jail terms ranging from six to 18 months, and court proceedings for the remaining two are ongoing.

The authority said it would "step up its enforcement actions" against those who engage in sham marriages to obtain immigration facilities to stay in Singapore.

ICA figures also showed that the number of employers arrested for hiring immigration offenders rose slightly, from 45 in 2016 to 48 in 2017. The number of people, such as home owners, arrested for harbouring immigration offenders fell. There were 252 cases last year, down from 306 the year before.

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