Syndicates prey on refugees

KUALA LUMPUR - People fleeing from countries torn by strife are being duped by international syndicates which have been using the Kuala Lumpur International Airport as their base.

Palestinian ambassador to Malay­sia Abdelaziz Abughoush said these syndicates abused the kindness shown by the Government in allowing Muslims to enter the country without visas.

"There are Mafia-type groups taking advantage of desperate people, not just Palestinians, by promising them travel documents and visas to enable them to enter any country of their choice.

"We are constantly warning our citizens about these crooks and urging them not to fall prey to them," he told The Star.

He said the syndicates used various methods to cheat refugees, including websites offering travel documents and methods of payment.

"There are also cases of people who are aware that they could be getting fake documents but still go ahead because of their desperation. We will do our best to help those who have been cheated, but we are unable to help those who have broken international laws," he added.

As an example, Abdelaziz cited the case of stranded Syrian teacher Khaled Ali and his family of five who were "living" at the KLIA transit area after being conned into believing that they could get passports to enter Sweden.

Khaled said a 50-year-old man called Abdul Rakhman Salekh had asked for US$9,500 (S$12,000) to get passports and flight tickets for the family to travel from Moscow to Kuala Lumpur, en route to Stockholm.

"I took up the offer because I wanted to give my 11-year-old son, who is unable to walk and talk, the best medical treatment in a Stockholm hospital," he said.

Khaled said the man had assured his family that they would be able to get new passports upon arrival at KLIA from a person who would be waiting for them.

"Rakhman travelled with us from Moscow to Abu Dhabi on an Etihad flight on July 2. When we arrived after the five-hour flight, he asked me to hand over our passports to him.

"I gave him the passports because he said that we would get us new Swedish passports when we reached KLIA," he said.

Khaled said that when the family arrived at KLIA, Rakhman was nowhere to be found.

He said he alerted KLIA security officers, who checked the passenger list and did not find Rakhman's name in it.

Khaled said he had seen four passports carried by the man which had his photographs but were under different names.

"I tried to contact him through his mobile numbers in Russia, Ukraine and Estonia but there was no response. I did not doubt him because I had known Rakhman for a year and he seemed to be a trustworthy man who organised pilgrimages," he said.

Khaled said Rakhman was originally from Syria but had been staying in Moscow for 25 years, adding that he also knew his family members.

He said the Syrian embassy in Kuala Lumpur had told him that it might take six months for the family to get new passports.

"I don't know what to do now. I'm very worried because my son is having a fever and requires medical attention.

"I have been staying at the transit hotel in KLIA over the past two days courtesy of a well-wisher. I don't know what to do now because we cannot enter Malaysia without passports," he said.

An officer from the Immigration Department recorded his statement on Monday.

It is learnt that Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB) had set up a special task force to investigate claims of passports being exchanged at the transit area.