RANGOON — 52 Burmese nationals, sentenced to yearlong prison terms for using forged visas in an attempt to enter Malaysia, have thanked embassy staff in Kuala Lumpur as they returned to Burma yesterday.
After being detained by Malaysian immigration authorities on July 8, the group met their families at Rangoon International Airport on Monday after five months’ imprisonment.
Maung Oo, a 30-year-old citizen of Mon State who was among the group, said that they were unaware they were using forged visas, which had been provided by an agent in Rangoon.
“The visa agent is my friend,” said Maung Oo. “We used to work together in Malaysia in the past.”
Maung Oo told The Irrawaddy that he coincidentally bumped into the agent this morning while staying at a Mon Buddhist Monastery in Rangoon’s Bahan Township.
“I asked him, ‘how dare you hurt me by doing this?’ But I didn’t show my disappointment. He took my passport and told me he would give me a real [visa] this time in order to appease me, but how could I trust him?”
A total of 72 Burmese nationals were detained at Kuala Lumpur Airport after immigration officers raised concerns about the provenance of their visas to police. 12 were subsequently found to have valid tourist visas.
Of the remaining Burmese, 52 were sentenced to one year’s imprisonment under the country’s immigration law on Aug 12. An elderly detainee and seven children, along with the 12 valid visa holders, were not charged but remained in immigration detention for more than a month.
Maung Oo said that police threatened to prevent the group’s return to Burma if they refused to admit their visas were forged during their court hearings.
“All of us had to say we used fake visas and they sentenced us one year in prison,” he said. “They told us if we confessed our mistake, we would only have to stay three months in jail, which is why we admitted it at court.”
The Burmese Embassy in Malaysia’s intervention in the case last week led to the group of 52 being released and deported to Burma on Sunday.
Maung Oo was incensed by his treatment during his time in prison, where he says poor conditions and physical violence were rampant, and decent food and clean water non-existent.
“They beat and slap faces of the people if they do not like someone,” he said of prison authorities. “They treated us Burmese very badly.”