Ex-detainees’ release: State govt complied with Cambodian law, says Fatimah

Fatimah (seated centre) is seen during the press conference on the ex-detainees' return from Cambodia. Seated on her right is Wan Junaidi while seated on her left is Deddy.

By Wilfred Pilo

KUCHING, Feb 17: Everything that the state government did to bring home the 40 Sarawakian ex-detainees from Cambodia was done according to the law, said Minister of Welfare, Community Well-Being, Women, Family and Childhood Development Dato Seri Fatimah Abdullah.

At a press conference at Kuching International Airport (KIA) after their arrival, she pointed out that the state government used the proper channel for the release of the ex-detainees and that the Minister for Special Functions in the Cambodian Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Othsman Hassan played a major role in helping the Sarawak delegation with the release.

“We met all the officials and were in communication with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Seng who knew of the episode and his relevant cabinet (members) for the release. Our chief minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg was also in touch with him. Finally after two months (in detention), the detainees were all freed,” she said.

“Our good efforts were made possible because the government of Cambodia really appreciated and respected the way our state government was honestly concerned and very caring in bringing its people back. This touched the heart of the Cambodian government and helped us to cut all the red tape.”

In the end, the state government’s diplomatic approach was the only approach to solve the issue, she emphasised.

Fatimah said that they needed to bring everyone back on a chartered flight which was paid by the state government as they want to ensure that everyone returned safe and sound.

An ex-detainee being welcomed home at KIA.

“We had problems with the travelling documents that needed to be administered properly by the Immigration Department of Cambodia and our embassy staff in Cambodia as the detainees had overstayed. They did a good job and on top of that, we had sick people among the detainees and if we were to take a normal flight, everything would not go as smoothly as we planned,” she elaborated, adding that there were many people to thank who eased this journey back to Sarawak.

Fatimah also described the chronology of events leading to the release of the ex-detainees as akin to a TV drama as there were many tasks to complete and instructions to follow which was tiring but finally, it proved to be more than justified to help fellow Sarawakians.

“Everything, that we were all into (including) the last detail until the journey back, was all possible as both countries Malaysia and Cambodia made sure that these ex-detainees were able to go home as free people without any conviction records in the country of Cambodia,” she said.

She also revealed details about the two bungalows where the ex-detainees stayed before they were rescued by the Cambodian authority.

“The two bungalows where they kept were built with only one exit and locked from the outside and all the windows of these two bungalows had iron grills and barbed wire. It was like a fort,” she said.

On how the ex-detainees were duped into going to Cambodia, Fatimah said these ex-detainees applied for their job in Cambodia via the WeChat application and were promised a salary of USD1,000.

“It is very attractive but in the future, people who wanted to go overseas to work must check with the proper authorities to avoid these kinds of problems,” she advised.

One of the returnees carrying another who is unable to walk as they were ushered to immigration counter at KIA.

On the mastermind is behind this scam, Fatimah said that it is for the relevant authority to handle and to follow-up.

“Our role and job was to bring these ex-detainees home,” she said.

She also thanked and acknowledged Santubong MP Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar who used his experience and international foreign networks to bring the saga to a happy conclusion.

Also present was Sarawak Foreign Affairs Ministry director Deddy Faisal Ahmad Salleh. — DayakDaily