The journalist who discovered mass graves in Perlis in 2015 says it was easy to cross between the Malaysian-Thai border.
Former Malay Mail reporter S Arulldas, 64, told the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) that he and colleague Mohd Sayuti Zainudin climbed a hill from Thailand side near Padang Besar and easily walked into Malaysia territory.
“There was no fencing, only border stones and barbed wires. The place is open, you can literally just walk across into Malaysia (from Thailand),” Arulldas said.
Together with two Thai guides, they discovered a secret camp believed used by human traffickers.
“On May 13 2015, we met up with two Thai men who promised to guide us to the migrant camps,” Arulldas said.
He described how they arrived near Ban Talok, Thailand, in a four-wheel drive and then set out to trek the steep hills nearby towards Wang Kelian on foot, saying he even came across worn-out paths in the thick jungle.
“We trekked up the hill and in about 15 minutes, we came across abandoned clothes, used utensils, food packets and rubbish at one site.
“We went through many steep sections where I had to hold on to roots to walk up, and not long after, we came across personnel from the Thai Army near the foot of the hill.
“The local men guiding us then stopped and spoke to the authorities before we were then allowed to pass through,” he said, adding the personnel did not interact with him or Sayuti.
“After several hours, we arrived at the border stone with Thai writing on it near Padang Besar, but around it was only barbed wire which we managed to pass through without much effort.
“It was only thigh-high and easy to step over and enter the other side.
“Not long after that, we found the campsite,” said Arulldas at the seventh day of the RCI hearing.
At the campsite, Arulldas and Sayuti discovered what appeared to be graves where bodies of migrants were buried.
“I felt sad and had my hands on my head when I saw the graves. How could migrants be subjected to such treatment like this?” said Arulldas.
Sayuti, the 22nd witness at the RCI, said as part of their investigative reporting, he and Arulldas observed how lax the security at the Malaysian-Thai border was.
He said they could cross over the border to Malaysia with relative ease, despite the placing of barb wires along the border.
“It’s just that, and there’s nothing else. We can easily walk over the wires, as the height is lower than my waist. There’s no fence or walls,” Sayuti said.
He then explained how on the Thai side of the border, immigration clearance forms could be easily obtained from individuals with few questions asked.
“It seemed very easy, as there were people with the immigration forms everywhere readily available,” the photographer said.
Sayuti said after crossing the border, they went to a nearby river which they were told was where the migrants would bathe and get drinking water.
“Then we moved further and found five earthen structures like graves not far from there. The graves were covered with leaves,” he said.
Arulldas, who has been pursuing stories on migrants and trafficking in his years reporting, said he first found out the possible existence of the human trafficking camps and mass graves in Wang Kelian after he overheard a conversation at a coffee shop in March 2015.
However, he was advised by his editor then not to pursue the case until he had further evidence, as the matter concerned the security of both Malaysia and Thailand.
He added that it was only later at the end of April 2015, when Thai authorities announced the discovery of human trafficking camps in their country, that he was given the nod by the editors to run his story.
Arulldas said he had also later made several visits to Wang Kelian in an attempt to look for more leads, when he met a Perlis forest park caretaker who told him that he recently saw a score of police vehicles and ambulances at the area, raising Arulldas’ suspicion.
“I then followed up on the situation. On May 9, I went to Hat Yai, Thailand where the Thai Deputy Inspector-General of Police held a press conference on the discovery of the trafficking camps in their country. It was also there that I met the two Thai individuals who helped guide me up the hill.
“On May 10, I followed the Thai army up the hill, but that was only in Thailand. And on the night of May 12, I received a call by one of the two Thai citizens asking me if I wanted to search for the camps at the Malaysian side of the border, After discussing with my office, I agreed,” he said.
Earlier, Arulldas told the RCI he had visited the surrounding area six times previously in an unsuccessful attempt to find the graves.
He said he had not asked locals for help, fearing that trafficking agents were among them.
It was Arulldas who exposed the mass graves in Wang Kelian to the public.
Some 139 graves containing 106 skeletal remains – believed to be of Rohingya migrants – along with 28 abandoned human trafficking camps on Bukit Wang Burma, were discovered by the police in Wang Kelian in January 2015.
However, the bodies and remains were only brought down in stages, between May and August that year.
Although the camps in Wang Kelian were first discovered by Malaysian police in January 2015, it was only later at the end of May that the authorities disclosed the matter to the public.
Apr 26, Wang Kelian RCI: Day Six
Apr 24, Wang Kelian RCI: Day Five
Apr 23, Wang Kelian RCI: Day Four
Apr 22, Wang Kelian RCI: Day Three
Apr 17, Wang Kelian RCI: Day One