I arrived in Sarawak through Bintulu on May 21st and was offered the usual 90 days permit. Unexpectedly the Immigration Dept came to pick me up on May 24th from a remote location in Bengoh, 1 hour drive away from Kuching, claiming that I was not allowed to enter Sarawak because I had immigration records which disallow my entry. But what records are they? The 1 doz officers could not inform me of any offenses that I could have committed. They took a statement from me at the Immigration Enforcement office in Pending-but there was no offense mentioned let alone investigated. I was simply told that the state government want me sent off by evening. They were all just following order -but from who? It is not important if I was deported-afterall there had been 6 others deported during the last state election, but if people who bring voter education to Sarawakians are deported it gives an extremely negative impression that the state government want to keep their citizens uninformed about their voting rights and, worse, disenfranchised!
How it happened
I went with 2 other friends to Kg Bengoh yesterday (May 24) morning-arriving around 10.40am. Since we were early we waited for the guide who was supposed to arrive to meet us at the guard house set up by the Dam contractor. The villages are hours of walk away, on narrow dirt tract, in the mountain. We wanted to pay a visit to the villages here because Bengoh was considered a hot seat in the recent election because 4 of the villages here will be submerged by the Bengoh Dam-and the villages are unhappy about being moved away from their ancestral homes. However the polling results did not seems to reflect the much feared electoral backlash from the dam issue. As election observer we wish to ascertain if the villagers voted with clear understanding of their choice at the polling stations. Eg did they know if their vote for the incumbent party would be interpreted to mean that they endorse the party which cause them to be relocated? We want to keep an open mind on what the villagers really think. We think that clarifying the thinking of the villages will make a good reference to all parties concerned.
However our intention was not to be realised easily, if ever. Around the time our guide turned up at 11.00am about 5 vehicles with Immigration Department signs drove through the guard house, from where about 20 personnel sprang out. A person in charge Zakaria said that I need to follow them to the Immigration Dept because I was not supposed to enter Sarawak despite that I obtained the 90 day permit. They milled around for about half an hour talking to the Dam contractor and make copies of our documents. Finally they wanted only me to go with them and let my 2 other friends to proceed to Kg Rejoi to do their work. That was how we parted.
The car carrying me did pass through the air port-luckily it did not turn into the airport! I was brought to Pending Immigration Enforcement office. I waited and waited. No investigation officer was around. At 12.30pm Zakaria asked an officer to accompany me to have lunch outside. I met my NGO friend Nicholas Mujah down the office.
After lunch we went back to the 3rd level of the Immigration office. No sign of the investigation officer. So I continue to send out info of my detention by the Immigration to my friends and associates, media etc, with my handphone and laptop. By 3.30pm then I was asked to give a statement. The statement given to a young female officer was about 5 pages long-focusing on the election observation activities. No clue on what was the reason of their intention to deport me.In fact they said that it is up to their superior whether to deport me.
After the statement it was another long wait. Around 5.00pm another more elder Immigration officer asked me to see her at the room where I gave a statement. She said that she was told by her superior that they will want me leave by today. The expected decision still came with a jolt. Then she asked me to buy my own ticket back. I replied that the ticket at last minute will cost more than Rm400.00-which I never paid at such price. So I refused to buy the ticket-which also be taken to mean that I return on my own accord-which cannot be furthest from the truth. I was forced to do so after i was given a 90 day entry permit. Someone has over-ridden their own rule/process.
After a bit of wrangling and phone calls she agreed to buy the ticket for me. At the end they bought a MAS ticket for me to fly back to KL at 8.00pm.
I was thankful that other friends turned up at the Immigration Dept to see me.
The Immigration officers Zakaria and 4 others escorted me to the the airport and dropped by my 3rd mile temprory office to pick up my belongings.
Some friends wanted to meet me at the airport. however they couldn’t because I was kept in the Immigration office at all time that I was there. they brought me to the plain when it was close to the boarding time.
I flew back to KLIA at about 10.00pm.
Issue: why the Immigration can be so efficient to nab me?
There is a clear contrast between how the Immigration Dept has been slow/inefficient to nab illegal immigrants which flood Sarawak’s towns and plantations, and the speed they managed to get me even when I was so far away from town! Most of the time the Immigration Dept will wait till a person blacklisted to arrive at the airport before they block the person and send him/her back. 5 of the 6 persons barred from Sarawak during the elections was dealt with this way. the 6th was told to not come again at her exit from the immigration post. If the Immigration Dept can be this efficient to deal with illegal immigrants then sarawak would not have so many illegals!
Issue: Unquestionable Immigration power?
It is clear that modern democracy demand accountability and transparency. Thus the state immigration power should be made accountable and transparent as well. The days when the `top guy’ make a ruling to bar someone- with the decision not subject to any judicial review should be over. It is therefore a good start that some of the 6 previously barred decided to mount legal challenge to the arbitrary Immigration power.
Issue: Are the enemies `insiders’ or `outsiders’?
There has been quite a bit of debates over the `insiders’ and `outsiders’ with some Sarawakians taking a hardline position on all `outsiders’. Certainly there are plenty of `outsiders’ who played negative roles in Sarawak eg squeezing Sarawak’s oil resources.. But there are also `insiders’ who squeezed state resources eg timber, to enrich themselves by great proportions. So the issue seems to show that the oppression are no monopoly of people based on their `insider’ or `outsider’ position. The policies of these people are probably are mre crucial to the people. By deporting `outsiders’ now and then Taib’s government try to appear as their `champion-but only to those who don’t understand his political game.
It may be time for the Sarawakians to identify their own allies than leave it to the `leaders’ to do the job for them. The half a century of under-development in Sarawak should be correctly been made a good criteria on that!
More issues will follow in a day or 2 eg who could be behind these immigration orders? Why are they afraid of civil society observers and activists while they can handle opposition personnel or leaders from W/Malaysia?
Thanks to all who sent support messages by mobile phone, Facebook or through the blogs!
Note: more information on the findings from Sarawak will be presented at a press conference in KL to be organised around 11.00am on Thursday. Watch out here for venue.