Malaysia advances in US State Dept’s world rankings for anti-human trafficking efforts

John Bechtel
Malaysia advances in US State Dept’s world rankings for anti-human trafficking efforts Bangladeshi migrant workers come out of their dormitory in Kuala Lumpur to have their documents checked as Malaysian government agencies monitor workers’ living conditions and other criteria of forced labor and human trafficking, March 17, 2022.
Hasnoor Hussain/Reuters

The U.S. State Department elevated Malaysia on Monday to the second tier of its worldwide standings in combating human trafficking – only two years after the Southeast Asian country stood among the bottom-most ranks. 

The promotion was among the highlights of the department’s latest annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, which U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken unveiled in Washington. At the ceremony, he also honored men from Bangladesh and the Philippines as heroes in the global fight against human trafficking.

“Around the globe, an estimated 27 million people are exploited for labor, services, and commercial sex. Through force, fraud, and coercion, they are made to toil in fields and factories, in restaurants and residences,” Blinken said in a message posted in the report. 

“Traffickers prey on some of the world’s most marginalized and vulnerable individuals – profiting from their plight.”

The new edition of the report showed that Malaysia joined neighbors Bangladesh, Indonesia and Thailand on Tier 2 while the Philippines remained at Tier 1. 

The report, which moved Malaysia up from the Tier 2 Watch List in 2023 and Tier 3 – the lowest – in 2022 – listed positive and negative efforts by the government to combat trafficking.

The positives included increasing trafficking investigations, convicting more traffickers while noting the majority of whom received significant sentences, increasing public awareness and “prosecuting allegedly complicit officials.”

Among the negatives, “Official complicity and corruption undermined anti-trafficking efforts and allowed traffickers to operate with impunity; this also increased migrant workers’ vulnerability to trafficking,” the report said. 

“Delays in prosecution, insufficient interagency coordination and inadequate services for victims discouraged foreign victims from remaining in Malaysia to participate in criminal proceedings and continued to hinder successful anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts.”

Al Amin Noyon of Bangladesh (left) receives a certificate from U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken honoring his efforts in combating human trafficking, during a ceremony marking the release of the 2024 Trafficking in Persons Report, at the State Department in Washington, June 24, 2024. [Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/Reuters]

During the ceremony at the State Department, Blinken was joined by 10 of this year’s crop of heroes recognized by the government agency for their efforts against human trafficking. 

The honorees included Filipino Samson Inocencio Jr., vice president of the International Justice Mission Philippines Program Against Online Sexual Exploitation of Children, and Al Amin Noyon, manager of the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) Migration Center.

America’s top diplomat introduced the 10 as “remarkably courageous individuals who are driving change in the face of daunting obstacles, often at great personal risk.” 

“Trafficking violates that shared belief. It also undermines the rule of law. It weakens border security. It limits people’s economic opportunities,” Blinken said in a speech.

Turning ‘scars into strength’

The secretary of state finished his address by telling Noyon’s story to those gathered for the ceremony. 

“More than ever, we have to work not only with governments but along with the private sector, civil society, multinational organizations, citizens and survivors … survivors like Al Amin Noyon,” Blinken said. 

“After graduating from university, he was lured away from his village in Bangladesh by a man who promised a higher-paying job abroad,” Blinken recounted, adding that Noyon’s parents sold much of their land to cover the cost of his passport and fees. 

“Instead, he was taken to a neighboring country where he was forced to work alongside others who were clearing a dense jungle. They were never paid. No one was allowed to leave. ‘If we were tired or refused to work, we would be beaten,’ Noyon said.”

Seven months later, Noyon and others escaped to the Bangladesh embassy and later returned home. According to a report in the Dhaka Tribune, that was the embassy in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, a prime destination in Southeast Asia for Bangladeshi migrants. 

“But that is not the end of his story,” Blinken said, adding that Noyon had dedicated himself to helping other trafficking victims.

“As he put it, ‘I turned my scars into strength,’” Blinken said. “Years later, thousands of people – thousands of people – owe their freedom to his efforts.”

Recognized as a hero in Washington, Noyon faces controversy in Bangladesh – he was arrested in 2023 and jailed for seven days on what his lawyer said was a false complaint filed by traffickers against him.

“At present, he is on permanent bail,” Noman Hossain Talukdar told BenarNews. 

His boss, meanwhile, praised Noyon. The BRAC welcome center is headquartered at the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka.

“People like Al Amin Noyon, who is a victim of trafficking and dedicated to the welfare of expatriates, are rare. He has become the ‘Noyon Bhai’ of the diaspora with his work,” BRAC Associate Director Shariful Hasan told BenarNews.

“Noyon received BRAC’s highest honor, the Sir Fazle Hasan Abed Appreciation Award, in 2023 for his work. The U.S. TIP award will give him new energy in his work – Noyon is actually our hero.”

Samson Inocencio Jr. of the Philippines (left) poses with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken after receiving his certificate for combating human trafficking, during a ceremony at the State Department in Washington, June 24, 2024. [Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/Reuters]

Fellow hero Filipino Inocencio was honored for his over two decades working with the International Justice Mission (IJM) Philippines, where he has contributed to 147 convictions for commercial sexual exploitation and 220 for online sexual exploitation crimes (OSEC) since 2005.  

“After becoming national director of IJM in 2016, Sam assisted in the removal of 544 children from situations of commercial sexual exploitation and 1,237 children who were at risk of OSEC,” the report said.

Inocencio was recognized for his collaboration with the Philippine government in 2016 to develop a “roadmap to Tier 1,” the top ranking in the Trafficking in Persons report, a ranking the nation has held for eight years.

“Sam’s leadership and dedicated service have strengthened the government and civil society’s response to trafficking and protected thousands, especially children, from exploitation,” the report said.

Country reports

For 2024, the TIP report noted that the Philippine “government continued to demonstrate serious and sustained efforts during the reporting period.” It praised efforts to investigate and prosecute more alleged traffickers and sentencing nearly all traffickers to significant prison terms.

Tier 2 country Bangladesh did not “fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so,” the report said. It noted that the government had adopted victim identification guidelines for front-line officials and identified more victims of trafficking.

Indonesia, another Tier 2 country, was credited with increasing investigations, prosecutions and convictions for trafficking crimes along with cooperating with a foreign government to address an “online scam operation based in Indonesia.”

Thailand “initiated investigations of 20 allegedly complicit officials,” the report said.

It pointed out that the government failed to meet minimum standards to move up to Tier 1 in several areas including “inconsistent and ineffective interviewing practices during labor inspections and victim identification interviews.”

Ayon Aman in Dhaka contributed to this report.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.