According to an Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) media statement, the ICA is stepping up security checks during the holiday season.
The ICA says that between January and October, there were 690 cases of Singaporeans trying to leave the country without the appropriate travel documents, including those travelling with passports that do not belong to them, expired or invalid travel documents, or no documents at all.
There were 3,500 cases of foreigners attempting to enter Singapore without appropriate travel documents in the same period this year. This was despite having already passed the Malaysian checkpoints. This is a new record of cases, which stood at 3,400 cases recorded for the whole of last year.
“Our top priority is to ensure the safety and security of Singaporeans,” AC Alan Koo, Commander at Woodlands Checkpoint said.
Mr Koo said ICA takes such cases very seriously to ensure there is no “malicious intent”, as terrorists may make use of false identities to enter the country. ICA said it checks every car entering Singapore for potential risks.
He added that it was important to investigate any security risk, drawing parallels between the tactics used by smugglers carrying contraband goods and terrorists carrying explosives, and as there are many similarities in the modus operandi of the two groups relating to their concealment of goods or explosives within vehicles or clothing, it was crucial not to take any risk lightly.
Mr Koo also revealed that there were some significant security risks detected during this December, which happens to be a holiday peak period. The increased security risks come in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks last month.
On a normal day, about 400,000 travellers pass through Singapore’s checkpoints, but the number will usually climb to 430,000 during the year end holiday period. Similar surges in traffic are also common around the June and Chinese New Year holidays.
Traffic bottlenecks are also common due to poor lane control on the Malaysian border. It is common sight in the morning to see dedicated motorcycle lanes coming from Malaysia full, which results in impatient riders trying to force their way into car or lorry lanes instead. ICA has officers stationed along the international portion of the causeways so as to enforce proper lane use once the cars cross to Singapore, but ICA cannot control the vehicles on the Malaysian side.
ICA has reached out Malaysia’s equivalent regarding the issue.
ICA also deploys officers to different locations and make creative use of infrastructure based on traffic demands. For example, a sudden surge in motorcycles may require some car lanes to be open to motorcycles to ease traffic flow.
Manpower needs were also beefed up for the year end peak season months ago, said an ICA spokesperson. Currently, more than 100 ICA officers work overtime in addition to their regular 8 to 10 hour shifts daily during the period.
“Our officers are working in a high-tension, high volume environment which can cause fatigue. We need to ensure we are not over-straining (them), which would affect their vigilance,” says the spokesperson.
Minister for Home Affairs K. Shanmugam has also weighed in on the jams at the causeway: “Our officers are working very very hard, they are working round the clock,” he said.
“People understand that, as a result of what has happened in Paris and the heightened terrorism threats worldwide, ensuring the safety of Singapore and Singaporeans is ICA’s foremost priority,” he added.
Shanmugam also said that ICA records suggest waiting time on the Singapore side of the causeway falls under three hours, so waiting times of four to five hours reported in the media are likely to include time spent on the Malaysia side.