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Malaysia arrests hundreds of suspected illegals

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Sept. 3 (UPI) -- Malaysia's Immigration Department arrested 2,433 people during a major swoop across the country to flush out illegal immigrants, Bernama news agency reported.

Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the arrests Monday in 40 operations were the first and warned that more well-planned raids and arrests are coming.

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"This operation isn't seasonal and won't end Dec. 31 this year," he said.

"This is an ongoing operation and we won't compromise. Our target is to achieve zero illegal immigrants."

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More than 2,200 government and police personnel were involved in the raids. Police, anti-smuggling and anti-drugs agencies and enforcement agencies of the Immigration Department and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission worked together to check more than 8,000 suspected illegals.

Of the people arrested, 717 were Indonesian nationals -- the biggest nationality, Hamidi said.

Authorities also arrested 555 Myanmar nationals, 387 Bangladesh nationals and 229 Nepal nationals.

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Other nationalities include Cambodian, Vietnamese, Indian, Pakistani, the Filipino, Chinese, Nigerians and Thai.

Hamidi said the ministry is working with the the diplomatic missions of all the countries to stem the flow of illegal immigrants and improve processes for issuing of permits.

He denied the ministry is hampering processes to issue permits and urged would-be immigrant workers to not pay middle-men to try to get them permits or sell them fake ID cards.

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"I hope the people won't use the services of middle-men, but go directly to the one-stop center represented by the ministry and departments to verify the issuing of permits by sector," he said.

The raids make good Hamidi's promise in July that his department was lining up to tackle head-on the problem of illegal immigrants and suspected connections to drug trafficking and other criminal activities.

The New Straits Times reported in July that Hamidi said "a massive operation on illegal immigrants nationwide after the Raya festivities" was imminent.

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Raya marks the end of the Islamic Ramadan religious period.

Hamidi said authorities are targeting entertainment centers, factories, farms and plantations known to employ illegal immigrants, the Times reported.

The arrests are part of the government's attempts under its 6P program to get an accurate list of the number of foreign workers in the country and weed out illegal workers.

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Under 6P, legal foreign workers had to register with the government in July 2011.

As part of an amnesty, employers had to register their legal and illegal foreign workers at any branch of the Immigration Department.

The government's amnesty was extended but it now is cracking down on unregistered illegal immigrants.

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Hand in hand with illegal immigrant registration has been the exercises to trace, arrest, prosecute and extradite foreign nationals who violate the country's immigration and anti-human trafficking laws.

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Hamidi said on Monday that Immigration Department was prepared to approve applications for permits if the applicants came forward through the proper channels.

A report in January by the International Business Times said about two-thirds of the Malaysia's 3.1 million foreign workers are in the country illegally.

Illegal Indonesians in Malaysia tend to work in construction, in domestic service or on palm oil plantations, usually for very low pay under unpleasant working conditions, the New York newspaper said.

Indonesians can integrate into Malaysian society easily compared with other foreigners because the two cultures are similar in religion, language, customs and food.

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