Illegal extensions at farms in Cameron Highlands flattened

Illegal extensions at farms in Cameron Highlands flattened
Torn down: Authorities removing illegal farm extensions and illegal immigrants' makeshift homes in Blue Valley, Cameron Highlands.

CAMERON HIGHLANDS - Two illegal farm extensions were flattened by the Centralised Enforcement Team (CET) in Blue Valley and Bertam Valley during simultaneous random operations here.

The operations yesterday targeted encroachment into state and reserve land by farm owners, said CET coordinator Abdul Wahid Salim.

"This is our sixth operation since CET was formed last year. As of September, the CET conducted five monitoring and enforcement activities here. These included the seizure of equipment and machines, detention of illegal immigrants and destruction of illegal farms," he said in an interview.

Hydroponic farms, alleged to be illegal, and tents set up by foreign workers were also torn down.

Abdul Wahid said the operation involved 140 personnel from the Pahang Land and Mines Department, the state Forestry Department, the state Environmental Department, state Drainage and Irrigation Department, the police and the state Wildlife and National Parks Department.

He said immigration officers were present but no arrests were made.

"Most of the temporary tents set up by the foreign workers were empty. We believe they have already fled," he added.

A forlorn-looking man, believed to be the owner of one of the farms, was seen holding his head during the operation in Blue Valley.

He declined to comment when approached.

Other farmers interviewed said the crackdown on illegal foreign workers could cause the collapse of the vegetable and flower industries here.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, they said they were left high and dry when their foreign workers, both legal and illegal, abandoned work to avoid the crackdown.

"Once the announcement on the crackdown was made known, all the foreign workers ran away," said a 46-year-old vegetable farmer.

"Locals are not keen to work as farmhands. So, we do not have anyone else."

She added that she used to have 15 foreign workers.

"All the farm owners here are having sleepless nights. We are really worried," she said.

On Sunday, a huge crackdown on illegals led to the detention of 181 foreign workers.

Many others have gone into hiding or fled.

Another farmer said the foreigners merely wanted to earn a living.

"People always complain that they are criminals. If they have jobs, they will not turn to crime," he said.

Another farmer lamented over the slow approval process for land grants by the district office, thus causing much uncertainty.

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