By CY Ming
A 33-year-old Taiwanese woman arrived at Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 (klia2) at 8.30pm on March 9.
Immigration officers denied her entry because several pages of her passport were torn. She was held in a detention centre and later released, and deported back to Taiwan on March 11 at 9.20am.
There was nothing unusual in the actions of the immigration officers except that the woman claimed the pages of her passport were torn by Japanese Customs officers when ripping off the tax-free forms stapled to them.
Instead of complaining to the authorities back home, she chose to post her experience on Facebook claiming ill-treatment, which was picked up by Taiwan media.
She alleged that her passport and mobile phone were confiscated and she could not inform her family of the situation.
After interrogation, she was told that she would be released the next morning but was detained an extra day as she refused to pay the RM1,000 demanded by immigration officers.
She also described the detention centre as dark, crowded and filthy, with no doors for the toilet. She claimed she had to sleep on the floor.
While there, she witnessed an immigration officer slapping a Vietnamese woman in the face when she walked out during roll call because she had mistakenly heard her name instead.
In her posting, she also cited a previous incident of another Taiwanese woman who was detained for mistakenly showing immigration officers the plane ticket for her previous trip to Malaysia.
All these are just one side of the story and truth will only emerge after a thorough investigation, which Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has ordered.
But there are two irrefutable facts concerning this incident. The first is that the foreign visitor had yet to enter our country, and the second is the conditions at the detention centre.
While it is normal to see immigration officers rounding up foreign women who have overstayed their welcome in our country due to their immoral activities, such treatment should not be accorded to those on arrival, however suspicious the person may appear to be.
Immigration officers around the world have every right to turn away single women entering a country based on suspicion, but have no right to ill-treat them.
While treatment can be debatable, the condition of the detention centre would be clear testimony to how the Immigration Department treats visitors denied entry.
Unless the Immigration Department allows the media to inspect the detention centre without sprucing it up, the public will continue to believe the Taiwanese woman’s side of the story.
I do not support or object to the way foreigners are rounded up for not possessing valid travel documents. They certainly cannot be treated with kid gloves but we can be kinder.
But if these officers were to be stationed at our checkpoints, particularly our international airports, they ought to behave in a better manner.
They are the face of real Malaysia. It is a given that all airline cabin crew flash their best smiles when passengers board or disembark from the aircraft.
Passengers are used to seeing them smile and will only notice those who don’t. After retrieving their luggage, anxiety builds for the passenger when the immigration queue is long or when they have to wait their turn for their documents to be processed.
While the immigration officer inspects their passport, the passenger watches the officer’s facial expression intently and breathes a sigh of relief when the stamp comes down on the passport.
The passport is normally returned to the passenger in a business-like manner, as the officer wishes to clear the line speedily.
But if any officer were to hand over the passport with a respectful smile, that smile could be remembered forever by many passengers.
All immigration officers at checkpoints are bestowed the greatest power to make visitors feel welcome. They are the real first impression for all visitors to our country.
But in order to respect others, they must learn to truly respect themselves. However, if they are egoistic, it will show in the organisation’s culture and look very ugly to the public.
Taiwanese visitors to Malaysia increased by 6.2% to 300,861 last year, from 283,224 the previous year. Taiwan’s population may only be 80% of Malaysia’s, but just like residents in Macau and Hong Kong, Taiwanese are affluent.
What was written in Chinese and posted on Facebook by that Taiwanese woman can also be read by many other people around the world, many of whom are likely potential visitors to Malaysia.
Our immigration officers ought to realise that with great power comes great responsibility.
CY Ming is an FMT reader.