The writer holding a card, apparently issued by UNHCR, that states that she is a 32-year-old Rohingya named Rabiah binti Zabul Karim. Pic by Asyraf Hamzah

IT is a matter of choice for the thousands making a beeline for their fake UNHCR cards. But the more they cough up for the document, the more genuine it looks.

Syndicates offering these cards that basically give illegal immigrants in the country some level of immunity from being rounded up by the authorities are fast expanding their trade from Kuala Lumpur to Kuantan, Alor Star and Ipoh.

The demand for them is so high that it is no longer pricey to get hold of one. You just need to know one person in the chain.

A Rohingya refugee I had befriended, who is also part of the trade, agreed to get me one.

My name had no value to him. He told me he would pluck a name from the Malaysian chapter of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ database.

He only needed my passport photo, a RM120 fee and another RM30 for cab fare.

Two days later, thanks to a syndicate operating in the city centre, I was “Rabiah binti Zabul Karim”, 32, a Rohingya refugee.

My agent tells me bluntly that I am sharing an identity with a few other Rohingyas.

Those in possession of similar cards will hold on to it for dear life until it expires. Mine, which was supposedly issued on Sept 7, 2014, expires on Sept 10, 2018. I will have to seek his services again if I wanted to remain in this country without valid papers after that.

I spoke to several people holding these fake cards. They said the card was temporary, to be used until UNCHR issued them with the real thing.

But they agreed that their paperless Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Indonesian friends, who are now being pursued by the Immigration Department, are proud owners too.

They are happy to know that the authorities dealing with them do not have data on the cards and will never be able to tell real from fake.

Later, I sat down with Brickfields Head of Crime Investigation Department Deputy Superintendent Tonny Lunggan, who was involved in efforts to smoke out fake UNHCR card holders, and whipped out my gleaming new card, which came complete with anti-forgery features.

He nearly fell off his chair in disbelief.

In his years of experience dealing with “fake refugees”, he had never seen one that was so convincing. The hologram, in particular, piqued his interest.

He told me that if he were to call UNHCR up, and checked my fake details against the world body’s database, the answer he would get was that yes, the office had issued the card to this person in front of him.

In cases where enforcement is carried out, the authorities are often left unable to carry out proper due diligence.

If I were a real illegal immigrant hiding behind my UNHCR card, this police officer in front of me will let me go, just like he has countless times before.

You see, there is no way our authorities can put the fake name to a real face, as the UNHCR database is apparently “confidential”, even to our authorities struggling to differentiate those unilaterally sanctioned by the body to stay in this country without valid papers and outright illegal immigrants.

Tonny told me that the only way to sort out fake card holders from real refugees was to round all of them up and haul them to the UNHCR compound for verification.

This is only plausible if they conduct joint operations with the Immigration Department.

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