Defeating illegal border crossings a major challenge

Photo used for illustration purposes only

KALABAKAN – Tawau and Kalabakan’s location near the border with Indonesia makes it hard for Malaysian authorities to prevent illegals from entering Sabah.

Bernama was recently given the opportunity to accompany the Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCom) on an inspection of the ‘rat lanes’ (lorong tikus) and staging points used by illegals in Kalabakan.


The border between Kampung Kanduangan in North Kalimantan, Indonesia and Kilometre 11 in Kalabakan, Malaysia is one of the main routes into the country at any time because it is shielded by thick forest which allows them to hide out for days without being detected by the security forces on patrol.

ESSCom commander, Datuk Ahmad Fuad Othman, said the illegals move in groups of 10 or 15 and are picked up by agents in four-wheel drive vehicles at the border.

“They are brought through plantation tracks to the main road in Kalabakan from where they continue their journey to Keningau or other districts in western Sabah, or to Tawau and other places in eastern Sabah,” he said.

Ahmad Fuad said that more than five staging points have been discovered 5 – 10km from Kampung Kanduangan-Kilometre 11, with one of them being Jeti Kretam in Ladang Kretam, Sabah.

“It takes 40 – 50 minutes to reach the jetty from Nunukan, Indonesia crossing Sungai Serudong and Sungai Silimpopon in a 200hp boat.

“Sungai Serudong’s tributaries make it hard to catch those involved because they can find places to hide,” he said, while adding that boat captains (tekong) are paid between RM200 and RM800 per head to abet the smuggling.

“Although there are regular patrols, the illegals are able to hide in the plantations. In Kalabakan alone there are five plantations that are over 20,000ha each.

Ahmad Fuad said the security forces are trying their best to eradicate these rat lanes and staging points because they can become a route for COVID-19 transmission.

“We have the security post at Burs Point manned by the General Operations Force (PGA) and the Malaysian Armed Forces (ATM) at Pos Serudong who are responsible for border security and have foiled many illegal entries into Sabah,” he said.

At the same time, ESSCom is working with Indonesian authorities to gather information on cross-border crime.

He said that plantation managers have been advised to report illegals and their hiding places.

“We’ve already warned them and the public not to abet boat captains bringing in illegals.

“Legal action can be taken against them under the Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants (ATIPSOM) Act,” Ahmad Fuad said.

He said that there are many rat lanes and staging points for 200km from Tawau to Kalabakan, but from April to October, around 1,995 illegals trying to enter through Tawau waters were turned back by security forces.