NGO Slams Malaysia’s Anti-Human Trafficking Record

Hata Wahari and Haireez Azeem Azizi
Kuala Lumpur
160708-my-tenaganita620.jpg A police officer patrols through an abandoned camp used by human traffickers in a jungle in the Malaysian northern state of Perlis, which borders Thailand, May 26, 2015.

Malaysia needs to do much more to stop human trafficking and modern-day slavery, says the head of a local NGO that has worked for 25 years to champion rights for migrants and refugees as well as expose abuses against them.

“The crime of human trafficking is a major problem in this country, as Malaysia does not have a good system that protects immigrants, refugees and those who have been manipulated or abused,” Tenaganita Director Glorene Das told BenarNews,

“Nobody wants to be a victim of human trafficking, illegal immigration … [or] being treated like garbage and enslaved without any human rights protection,” she said.

Tenaganita and other NGOs have criticized the Malaysian government for allegedly not doing enough to shield people who are trafficked into the country from being exploited or abused in other ways on Malaysian soil, and who are among an estimated population of two million undocumented foreign migrants in the country.

‘Unearned prize’

The criticism of Malaysia’s handling of the trafficking issue deepened last month after the U.S. State Department kept the country on a watch list of countries in its annual report on human trafficking.

A year ago, the State Department bumped Malaysia up from its Tier 3 blacklist of countries, which ranked lowest in efforts to prevent and combat the problem. Critics said Malaysia was promoted as an incentive for joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal being negotiated then by the Obama administration.

Since the department’s latest Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report came out on June 30, critics have argued that Malaysia didn’t deserve to remain on the Tier 2 Watch List this year.

“Despite a reformed victim protection system, migrant workers continue to suffer on palm oil plantations and in electronics factories. Though trafficking convictions increased last year, investigations and prosecutions decreased. And no one has been held accountable for the mass graves found last year on the Thai border,” an editorial in the Washington Post said on July 4.

“Malaysia did not deserve a promotion last year, and it does not deserve this year to keep a prize it did not earn.”

Officials at the department have defended the report, saying it was based on impartial information and rigorous research into conditions in Malaysia.

The report, however, did contain some criticism of Malaysia’s human rights record.

“The Government of Malaysia does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so,” the TIP report said. “Despite these measures, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing anti-trafficking efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore, Malaysia is placed on Tier 2 Watch List for the second consecutive year.”

“Malaysia initiated fewer trafficking investigations and prosecutions compared to last year, but increased convictions from three to seven. Sentences for convicted traffickers varied, but some were insufficiently stringent,” the report said

Among other things, the State Department recommended that Malaysia increase its caseload of prosecutions and convictions of people involved in human-smuggling rackets, “including of complicit officials.”

Boy trafficked into sex trade


According to Gloria Das, concerns over human trafficking grew sharply last year with the discovery of scores of bodies of suspected human-trafficking victims, which were found in mass graves in the jungle along Malaysia-Thailand border.

The discovery of the graves in Wang Kelian, Perlis state, indicated that a trafficking syndicate was active and supported by corrupt law enforcement officials, Glorene said.

Last month, a Malaysian court sentenced a Bangladeshi man to 10 years after he pleaded guilty to three charges of human smuggling and trafficking in the area where 106 graves believed to contain the remains of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar and Bangladeshi migrants were found in May 2015.

Tenaganita, which is marking its 25th anniversary this year, recently rescued a teenaged boy from Bangladesh who was sexually abused, according to Glorene. The common belief that the sex trade only involves women or girls is wrong, she said.

“The boy and his cousin boarded a boat in 2014 to look for jobs outside. He finally fell into the hands of ruthless traffickers who regard him as a commodity – trying to sell his body parts on the black market.

“He managed to flee the dealer but, unfortunately, fell into the hands of modern slavery – a sex trafficking syndicate for a few months,” Glorene told Benar.

Tenaganita later enrolled the boy in a recovery program. Complicating his situation was the lack of “safe houses” for men because immigration centers do not provide such treatment, but the teen has returned to Bangladesh and is now safe, according to Tenaganita.

Government optimistic

Meanwhile, Malaysia’s deputy prime minister, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi expressed optimism that Malaysia would improve its record and might be promoted in next year’s TIP Report.

The country is taking steps to allow victims of trafficking to move freely or to live outside government protected homes, including allowing them to work in the country, he said.

Amendments to the country’s Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants (ATIPSOM 2007) law will aid in addressing human trafficking, according to the deputy PM.

The government will also do more to increase its cooperation with NGOs that work to protect migrants from exploitation, and that should help alleviate the problem, Zahid said.

Additionally, Malaysia will keep cooperating with strategic partners, including the United States, to increase the number of convictions for such crimes, he said.


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