Malaysia is making final preparations to launch a nationwide crackdown in January aimed at ridding the country of more than one million illegal immigrants, the government said Friday.
Tan Chai Ho, deputy home affairs minister told Agence France-Presse that some 25,000 members of a volunteer security group are undergoing training to assist forces carrying out the operation.
The sweep will target illegal immigrants who have failed to take up a government offer of amnesty in return for leaving the country voluntarily, officials said.
Tan dismissed reports that some migrants had built tree-top houses in the jungles of eastern Sabah state on Borneo island in a bid to evade capture.
“There is no way they can escape the dragnet,” Tan said, adding that enforcement officials, including the police and immigrations officers would be deployed to every village and town to arrest illegals.
“We hope the illegals will leave the country on their own free will. Please don’t wait to be arrested,” he said.
Malaysia has extended until the end of this month the deadline for illegals to return home. It had earlier given them until the end of the Eid-al-Fitr Islamic holiday in mid-November to leave but the response had been poor.
Tan said since mid-October some 150,000 illegals had left the country.
Tan said members of the neighborhood security group, now being trained by the police, immigration and national registration department officials, would be armed with batons and handcuffs while the officers would carry a pistol.
Once they completed their training at the end of December, another batch would undergo a similar program.
Malaysia has announced that it will deploy more than half a million people to track down and detain the estimated 1.2 million illegal immigrants in the country, mainly from Indonesia and the Philippines.
The move has been described as “ominous” by Human Rights Watch. The volunteers would receive minimal training and would get cash rewards for each migrant arrested, the rights group said.
It urged the government to drop the plan to avoid vigilantism.
Once the amnesty expires, illegal immigrants face jail sentences of up to five years and a whipping.
Tan said 18,607 people have already been caned, mainly from Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines, for entering the country without valid documents.
Many illegal immigrants risk staying in relatively prosperous Malaysia because they face unemployment and poverty in their own countries.