By P Prem Kumar
KUALA LUMPUR (AA) - Over 100 individuals are being investigated in Malaysia on the suspicion that airport migration systems have been compromised to allow human trafficking syndicates to move illegal migrants unhindered in and out of the country.
A source close to the matter told Anadolu Agency on Thursday that the Malaysian police have formed a special team to investigate and detain the suspects.
"The government is very serious about the matter, and has entrusted the Home Ministry to lead special operations to probe the Malaysian Immigration System [myIMMs]," the source said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
In 2014, MyIMMs -- implemented around 20 years ago -- was linked to Interpol’s I-Checkit to enable authorities to verify within seconds if a passport had been stolen or reported lost.
In a short statement Thursday, Immigration Director-General Sakib Kusmi said the department had found elements of sabotage in its system since 2010.
"The department has identified the individuals involved but the investigation is still going on and the outcome will be announced when the time comes," Kusmi said, adding that the issue had grown to a serious level, forcing the authorities' hand.
Last Tuesday, a source told AA that the myIMMs system had been found to have been downed once a day, allowing manual screening by counter officers in two major international airports in capital Kuala Lumpur.
"The system is believed to have been switched off deliberately, so when the system [appeared] crashed, passports would be stamped manually."
Migrants would thus evade computer checks that would register them as entering or leaving the country, check their names on international terror databases, or confirm if their passports were genuine or forged.
Stolen or forged passports have long been a problem for ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries, with smuggling gangs using them to move -- among others -- Uighur Muslims from China's restive Xinjiang region and Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar to third countries.
International traffickers are believed to utilize a labyrinth of networks to move Uighur from China -- where they say they face persecution -- through Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and then through Thailand's southern border into Malaysia, to Kuala Lumpur and beyond.
Rohingya, meanwhile, travel on boats from Internally Displaced Person camps in Bangladesh's Cox's Bazaar region and Myanmar's western Rakhine State -- where they face persecution that many Human Rights groups have claimed is state sanctioned -- to Thailand, and then through Thailand's southern border into Malaysia, and to its capital and beyond.
Late Monday, Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said he believed that the system had been sabotaged, with suspected perpetrators already identified.
"We have identified several suspects. The names would be announced by the police soon," he told reporters.
Last week, Malaysian police arrested 19 people suspected of trafficking Sri Lankan nationals with fake Malaysian passports to Geneva, Switzerland.
In a four-week operation, the police arrested six Malaysians including two immigration officers, one agent and three runners as well as 10 Sri Lankans and three Indian agents.
Recently, two Russians and a Sri Lankan were detained in Malaysia's central Selangor state on terror offences.
Questions were raised as to how the men could enter Malaysia when the Sri Lankan was on a wanted list in his country, and the Russian had been deported from Turkey in February on suspicion of ties to Daesh.