KOTA KINABALU - Over 2,000 illegal immigrants have been caught in Sabah's eastern high security zone last year.
Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) commander Datuk Abdul Rashid Harun said 2,363 illegal immigrants were nabbed during 33 special operations code-named Ops Gasak in the bid to clear the area of illegal immigrants.
He said steps have been taken under immgration laws to deport the illegal immigrants - 1,727 men and 636 women - back to their home country.
The people arrested were among some 6,081 who were screened, he said in explaining that the highest number of illegal immigrants were in Semporna with 1,519 arrested followed by Lahad Datu (518) and Sandakan (187).
He said the entry of illegal immigrants was a serious security threat particularly to east coast residents of Semporna, Tawau, Kunak, Lahad Datu dan Sandakan.
"People must not in anyway provide any assistance or harbour these illegal immigrants.
"They should immediately inform authorities if they spot them in their respective areas," said Abdul Rashid when meeting residents of Sungai Manila in Sandakan yesterday.
Abdul Rashid warned that locals found harbouring or helping illegal immigrants could face prison terms of up to five years or fined RM10,000 (S$3,700) under immigration laws if found guilty.
Residents in the east coast were also cautioned against believing rumours of imminent attacks by cross border criminals that were spread by the social media.
For example, he said rumours spread on Dec 25 that southern Philippines extremist elements had landed in Kampung Luboh (Sungai Manila) were false.
"Check with Esscom and verify such social media claims," he said, adding that Esscom was working with the people to resolve whatever issues that may cause security threats.