Sunday, 21 February 2016

More caught harbouring, hiring immigration offenders: ICA Annual Statistics Report 2015

59% spike last year due to coordinated enforcement efforts between agencies: ICA
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 20 Feb 2016

More people were arrested for providing lodging or work to immigration offenders last year, with a 59 per cent spike in the number nabbed.

Statistics released by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) yesterday showed that 416 harbourers and 91 errant employers were caught last year, up from 250 and 69 respectively the year before.

The ICA attributed the rise to focused and coordinated enforcement efforts conducted with other agencies such as the police and Ministry of Manpower.

Almost half of the harbourers arrested last year were Singaporeans, the ICA said. Meanwhile, errant employers who engaged immigration offenders came from industries such as construction, food and beverage, and cleaning services.

"The current security environment needs everyone to play a part - for employers, landlords and home owners to do their due diligence," said Dr Tan Wu Meng, who sits on the Government Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs and Law.

"When people turn a blind eye to illegal activity, it makes Singapore a softer target. We must not send a wrong message that Singaporeans are complacent about safety and security," he said.

The total number of immigration offenders arrested has been falling in the past few years, and continued to decline last year by 7 per cent from 2,040 to 1,901.

Fewer illegal immigrants were arrested, with an 11 per cent dip from 350 to 310 last year. The number of overstayers caught fell by about 6 per cent, from 1,690 in 2014 to 1,591. This was due to tough enforcement and public education, the ICA said.

The total number of contraband cases detected rose by 2 per cent from 93,380 in 2014 to 95,677 last year. The items were detected through checks, including X-ray screening of packages.

The ICA also flagged the trend of more people smuggling contraband items via parcels and packages shipped into the country, as online shopping grows in popularity.

It detected 18,419 contraband cases in parcels and packages last year, up from 14,289 in 2014. Common items included stun guns and sex enhancement pills. Others included an airsoft rifle set declared as a "kids battery playset".

But there was a 62 per cent drop in the number of people convicted of marriage of convenience offences - 64 people were arrested last year, down from 170 in 2014.

The ICA said it continues to work closely with community partners; ambassadors reach out to home owners and estate agents on the need to conduct checks on potential tenants.

"In this current security climate, ICA has stepped up its border control measures and will continue to conduct stringent checks on all travellers, goods and conveyances," said ICA commissioner Clarence Yeo.

The world is on a heightened state of alert after recent terror attacks such as those in Jakarta and Paris.

Mr Yeo said: "At the same time, we urge the community, our fellow Singaporeans, to work hand in hand with us to help keep our country safe and secure."

Illegal immigrants not confined to Geylang, Little India
They are in the heartland too, says ICA, as number of harbourers shoots up
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 29 Feb 2016

Singapore has seen fewer illegal immigrants and overstayers over the past few years, but the number of people caught providing lodging to immigration offenders rose sharply last year.

One factor, said Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) senior investigation officer Roger Leong, is that immigration offenders are moving out of the usual "hotbeds" such as Geylang and Little India into areas such as the heartland.

Also, while five or six immigration offenders might be putting up with a single landlord four years ago, offenders are now "dispersed" and tend to stay in smaller groups of up to three people, said Assistant Superintendent Leong.

According to ICA statistics released earlier this month, 416 people were arrested for providing lodging to offenders last year, up from 250 in 2014. Those caught providing work to immigrant offenders also rose, to 91 from 69, over the same period.

Criminal lawyer Rajan Supramaniam said ignorance and negligence could lead to landlords not carrying out their due diligence and checking with the relevant authorities.

"Often, offenders may have forged their work permits, or had them terminated before their expiry dates," he said. "People unfamiliar with the rules may be convinced that these are legitimate."

He added that sometimes, landlords do not check as they are taken in by people who pose as employment or real estate agents to show foreigners around.

Said criminal lawyer Shashi Na- than: "Some of these harbourers may be willing to take the risk because they are getting rent in compensation."

This is worrying as the minimum punishment is a jail term, he said.

"We need to educate the general public more on such offences."

In one case, Er Chiang Hee, 44, collected $18 daily for renting out bedspace in a four-room private apartment in East Coast Road for about two months last year - this cost him six months in jail.

Er, the caretaker of the apartment, was told that Vietnamese national Le My Ron, 34, had just arrived in Singapore. He decided to rent a bed to her in August last year without checking her permit or pass, or details of the documents against that of her passport.

Le's visit pass had actually expired earlier, in June last year.

Er, who was sentenced last Wednesday, had also been harbouring another Vietnamese woman, who was 44 years old.

With offenders possibly spread out across Singapore, said ICA senior project manager of community partnership Wong Kong Wa, it is difficult to spot immigration offenders among legitimate workers.

He added that ICA intends to step up its public education.

Dr Tan Wu Meng, who sits on the Government Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs and Law, said: "Overstayers and illegal immigrants can cause security problems for home owners and neighbours."

Added Dr Tan, an MP for Jurong GRC: "In addition to the security risks, if immigration offenders go unchecked, it could undermine the respect between locals and legitimate migrant workers."

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