‘Human smuggling rife at our ports’

National, Normal

HUMAN smuggling and other illegal activities are happening under the very noses of Customs officials but they do not have the capacity to prevent or monitor them, Customs officials revealed in Parliament yesterday.
Senior PNG Customs Service officers giving evidence at the hearing into the May riots said Papua New Guinea had vast sea and land borders which were difficult to monitor effectively.
Inquiry committee members, including chairman Jamie Maxtone-Graham and Lagaip-Porgera MP Philip Kikala, conducted the investigations, calling in officials from the PNG Trade Union Congress, Customs, Central Bank, Foreign Affairs, Labour Department and Investment Promotion Authority in the past two days to assist the inquiry.
Benjamin Sine, a senior Customs officer, said there were fishing vessels that did transfers of illegal immigrants on high seas.
He gave an example that a random check on an oil tanker found that the vessel was carrying undeclared oil products which were impounded with the help of Defence Force and the crew taken to Manus for questioning.
He said fishing vessels also made false declarations about the people coming in on ships.
“There are fishing vessels that do transfer on the high seas when a smaller vessel unloads its catch on the mother ship. We do not know how many get back from the mother ship.”
Mr Sine said some illegal immigrants come through the land border while others come through airports on valid visas on fake passports.
“Sometimes, we try our very best to turn them away or deport them.”
Mr Sine said some come through using legitimate work permits but leave their designated employment to look for other opportunities.
“Customs officers have come across people who cannot even speak English but we cannot do much because Labour Department has given them work permits.”
He said many of these illegal immigrants come through an established company but when they arrived, they are put into smaller subsidiary companies.
Mr Sine said that last week, a foreigner was arrested in Porgera, Enga province, selling mobile phone cards although he had come to PNG as the “general manager” of a company. He is expected to be deported today.
Earlier, PNGTUC president Michael Malabag raised the same issue about granting of work permits without proper checks.
He said most RamuNico workers came in with “engineers” stamped on their work permits when in fact they were cooks and general labourers.