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By Verenaisi Raicola

SUVA, Fiji (Oct. 31, 2002 - The Fiji Times/PINA Nius Online)---Fiji Police suspect an increase in crime may be connected to the rise in numbers of illegal immigrants.

Criminal Investigation Department Director Emosi Vunisa said while it is the role of immigration officials to ensure illegal immigrants are barred from the country, police were doing all they could to help.

"We are certainly concerned with the increase of illegal activities related to Asians and are doing our best with limited resources to assist immigration officials," he said.

Vunisa said through combined efforts with the Immigration Department they hoped to curb the problem, which seemed to be rising significantly.

Immigration Department Director Navendra Prasad said most illegal immigrants came in with work or visitors' permits but instead of returning after their period of stay, they remained.

"This is a really worldwide trend happening even in countries with tighter security measures like the U.S. and Australia, where there are illegal immigrants in droves," he said.

Prasad said the Immigration Department was sending officers for regular training in areas of security with the intention of upgrading its system.

"We have officers who have been in this field for years but constant training is needed to upgrade the knowledge and techniques used to combat immigration problems," he said.

Prasad said there was a need to upgrade knowledge in conducting investigations and they were doing it through courses funded by the Australian government at the Police Academy in Suva.

"We know there are illegal immigrants and we conduct raids almost weekly. Some finding a few and others find none at all," he said.

Prasad said for Chinese coming in with work permits and overstaying, their $3,000 bond was used for deportation purposes when they are caught.

He denied claims of a scam involving immigration officers, saying there was no need for speculation until there was proof.

"It is easy for people to speculate in such matters, and point a finger at me as head of this department. But we are doing all we can."

Meanwhile, Labor Minister Kenneth Zinck said there was a need to remove illegal immigrants, especially those taking the jobs of locals.

"Unemployment is a problem and one of the government's priorities is to ensure employment for school-leavers," he said,

Zinck said the Labor Department could not move in to conduct checks as it was entirely the work of the Immigration Department.

"The garment industry needs to be closely monitored by the Immigration Department," he said. "There seems to be a noticeable number of Asians employed in it."

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