By NISHA SABANAYAGAM
Tricked by their lovers into smuggling drugs, Malaysian women are languishing in foreign jails. And with too many Malaysians overstaying in the UK, the British government is mulling introducing visas for visiting Malaysians.
NISHA SABANAYAGAM discovers that it is certainly no breeze going through immigration if you are a young Malaysian woman travelling alone.
LINING up to get into the boarding area for my flight to London from Colombo last month I watched, with a slight sense of pity, the Immigration personnel question some Sri Lankan passengers.
How awful it was to be from a country where you are viewed with suspicion based merely on your citizenship, I thought.
I walked confidently to the Immigration officer and handed him my passport.
The glances back and forth from me to the passport photo continued a little longer than usual. But hey, I'm a Malaysian girl. I've travelled before and Immigration checks were always a breeze.
It was when they asked for my Malaysian identity card that it became clear that this was no mere routine check.
The man, who looked like the Indian uncle who sells you your newspaper, actually knew the term MyKad.
It wasn't, "Do you have any other photo identification?", it was, "Can I see your MyKad?"
"Is there a problem?" I asked pleasantly. No response.
I gave him my tattered MyKad, which bore a picture of a younger me with really short hair.
"It doesn't look like you," came the verdict.
"It is me, just much younger and thinner," I said in a joking manner, hoping to ease the tension a bit.
The man's expression remained solemn. Other passengers walked past me to the boarding area.
By now, my officer was placing the MyKad under an ultraviolet scanner, the kind they used to have in shopping centres in the good old days to check the authenticity of your RM50 note.
I watched him, growing more edgy by the minute, but also noting that nothing untoward appeared on the MyKad under the purple light. But he didn't give it back to me. Instead he asked for a driver's licence.
"I don't have one," I said.
"Any other picture ID?" he asked as he screwed on a monocle (of all things!) and started inspecting the passport in absolute detail.
He peered at my picture, he peered at the logo, then he ran his thumb over it.
"Have you been to London before?" he asked.
"No. It's my first time."
Not the best answer, but the absolute truth. A slight pause on my part before I said, or rather squeaked nervously, "But I've been to Europe before."
I was more scared than I realised. They were intimidating.
I was going to London on a holiday to meet up with old friends. I wanted to tell the officer that I was not desperate enough to illegally immigrate and despite having grandparents from Jaffna, my heart did not beat for the Tamil Tigers.
I tried very hard not to appear like a terrorist-disguised-as-a-tourist in my jeans, sweater, backpack and handbag.
I refused to look at anybody else except the officer. I could feel the curious glances in my direction.
Then I noticed the Immigration officer checking the thickness of the front cover of my passport.
And for some reason, that got me mad. I had filled out too many forms with too many little boxes, dug up my parents' IC numbers from dusty files and paid RM300 of my hard earned money for that valid passport!
Finding nothing wrong but still so unwilling to let me by, the officer glanced over at his colleague and handed over my documents to him. By this time, all of the passengers were in the boarding area except me.
This was so unfair! I wanted to tell him that for every one of those stupid Malaysian drug mules, there were countless others who wouldn't even think about doing drugs, let alone smuggle them.
The anger probably cleared my mind because it occurred to me that I did have another picture ID with my MyKad number on it. I fished it out of my bag.
The officer took one look at the word "Media" on the tag and suddenly his tense posture disappeared and the resemblance to the newspaper uncle intensified.
"Oh! Media!" he said.
The other officer immediately handed me back my documents.
"So, you're a journalist," he said in an almost kindly tone.
I was completely flabbergasted. It was just a basic media pass, a lot more easier to forge than any passport.
I went through the gate and headed for the nearest seat, totally embarrassed but trying to look unfazed.
It did not help that almost everyone in the boarding area was staring at me.
Some of the looks were slightly pitying.
They were probably thinking how awful it was to be from a country where you are viewed with suspicion merely based on your citizenship.