SINGAPORE: Some hide among empty bread crates being carted out of Singapore in lorries. Others slip between luggage bags in tour buses. Some even squeeze into modified speaker compartments in the back of cars.
Last year, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) seized 18 vehicles that were used to sneak immigration offenders out through the checkpoints.
That is more than double the eight vehicles that were seized in 2009, while the number of foreigners arrested for immigration offences was the lowest in 10 years.
The majority of these 18 vehicles were cars - and most bore foreign licence plates.
However, also among the vehicles seized were a tour bus, a lorry and a 40-foot trailer.
Many of those who try to flee the country in this way are overstayers, runaway workers or illegal immigrants, said Superintendent Chia Hui Keng, who is also ICA’s head of public and internal communications.
“The drivers of these vehicles, who are mostly foreigners, also want to earn a quick buck,” she added.
Last July, a 29-year-old pregnant woman was arrested after she was found driving a car with an illegal immigrant in the boot.
The woman, Malaysian Chia Kiu Lim, told ICA officers that she was paid S$700 (RM1,664) by an acquaintance she knew only as “uncle” to take a 43-year-old Chinese national out through the Woodlands Checkpoint.
The Chinese national claimed she had been on a work permit only a few days before it was cancelled by her employer, and had continued to stay on illegally to earn money to pay off debts.
Eventually, she said, she paid a Malaysian middleman S$2,000 (RM4,755) to get out of Singapore.
She was sentenced to 12 weeks in jail and fined S$2,500 (RM5,944) for trying to leave Singapore illegally.
Others employ more elaborate ruses to avoid detection by immigration officers.
Two Malaysian men were nabbed, also last July, for modifying the speaker compartments in the boot of a car to hide a Bangladeshi national.
The ICA said more checks, coupled with the fact that immigration officers were better able to detect forged and altered passports, accounted for the rise in the seizure of vehicles last year.
Denied the option of using fake passports to exit, illegal immigrants resort to using vehicles as one of the more ‘creative’ methods to get out.
Many of these vehicles are modified at car workshops outside Singapore.
Said Supt Chia: “Our officers look out for extraordinary modifications or fittings that are not congruent with the overall design of the vehicle.”
Immigration officers also look out for nervous or fidgety drivers.
The penalty for conveying illegal immigrants in or out of Singapore is a jail term of two to five years, and at least three strokes of the cane. — Strait Times/Asia News Network