[South East Asia] COVID-19 outbreak: Malaysia tightens border control to guard against import of cases

After nabbing 300 migrants in this month alone, Malaysia is now beefing up its border monitoring to prevent foreigners from entering via illegal routes and potentially importing COVID-19 infections, Senior Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said on Thursday.
“The government takes seriously the entrance of illegal immigrants into the country and we feel the fear, especially at this time (of the COVID-19 pandemic).
“So we have started ‘Ops Benteng’ where the maritime agency, the military as well as the police are working together in monitoring the borders, especially illegal routes that can be used by immigrants to enter illegally,” he said.
Ismail Sabri, who is also defence minister, also raised his concern over possible re-entry of foreign workers who have earlier left Malaysia for Hari Raya Aidilfitri celebrations back home.
“We are worried they will come back illegally after Hari Raya. When they go back to celebrate, they know they can’t come back during the time of the movement control order (MCO). We can’t allow them to come back during the MCO because of our border control to avoid imported cases,” he said.
The minister added that border control has been one of the more important measures taken to curb the rise of COVID-19 cases nationwide.
Since May 1, 327 illegal immigrants and 41 boat skippers have been arrested for trying to enter the country illegally, he said.
Seven individuals believed to be traffickers were also detained, along with seven boats.
“There are two scenarios, one is when they have already crossed the border, then we would detain them. As for those found at the border trying to enter, they would be chased away.
“Since May 1, 86 illegal immigrants have been sent back with three skippers and three ships because they were found at the border trying to enter our borders illegally,” he said.
Sabri stressed that border control and monitoring will continue to be tightened beyond what is done regularly, as the scenario is more dangerous now with COVID-19.
“The situation is very serious in neighbouring countries, we are worried of the possibility of a new cluster,” he said.
The minister also added that Ops Benteng has led to the detention of 1,515 illegal immigrants nationwide.
Separately, Mr Ismail Sabri said Indonesia, Nepal and Bangladesh have agreed to take back their citizens detained at three immigration depots in Bukit Jalil, Semenyih and Sepang, where COVID-19 cases have been detected.