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Modern-day slavery in Malaysia

Burmese refugees in a refugee camp along the Thai-Myanmar border (Pic by Mikhail Esteves @ Flickr)

THE condemnation of Malaysia in the United States State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report 2009 should not have come as a surprise. In fact, the Malaysian authorities should have anticipated it.

The Malaysian government was put on notice of active trafficking in persons in the country a year ago by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and political parties, and through questions raised in Parliament. In addition, a report was released last April by US Ranking Minority Member Richard Lugar titled Trafficking and Extortion of Burmese Migrants in Malaysia and Southern Thailand.

On 3 May 2008, an NTV7 documentary titled Refugee for Sale exposed the selling and trafficking of Burmese refugees and migrants in detention camps along the Malaysia-Thai border. The report implicated Malaysian immigration officials as part of the network involved in human trafficking. In July 2008, I asked a parliamentary question on this scandal, and the Ministry of Home Affairs replied that a special committee would be established to investigate the accusation and get further information from NTV7.

In October 2008, I posited a second question on the outcome of the special committee’s investigation, and was told there was no basis to the accusations that immigration officials were working together with traffickers. Was the NTV7 producer contacted by the special committee for further information and evidence? No. Then how could they say there was no basis to the accusation?

Clearly, the then home minister had misled Parliament and the nation. The Lugar report, which outlined numerous instances of collaboration between immigration officials and traffickers, was also met with similar denial. This complete shirking of responsibility in the face of convincing evidence reflects poorly on the integrity of Malaysian institutions. This is another feature of a failing state.

(Pic by Steve Weaver @ Flickr)

The Trafficking in Persons Report 2009 identifies Malaysia as a destination, transit and source of human slavery. There are two sets of trafficked people: a) women and children for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation; and b) men, women and children for the purpose of forced labour.

Malaysian women and girls, especially from indigenous communities, are trafficked within the country for labour and commercial sexual exploitation. Furthermore, Chinese Malaysian women, including indigenous women from rural areas, are trafficked abroad to destinations such as Singapore, Hong Kong, France, and the UK for commercial and sexual exploitation.

The report states that local employment agencies including immigration authorities actively collaborate with human traffickers, as in the situation involving Burmese refugees and migrant workers in detention camps along the Thai-Malaysian border.

The report categorically notes that the Malaysian government does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. Malaysia has been placed on Level 3, which has ramifications in terms of securing international loans from multilateral financial bodies and eliminates all opportunities for civil servants to take advantage of Fulbright Scholarships and other educational and cultural exchanges with the US.

Malaysia’s credibility on the international stage is at stake. If the Home Ministry fails to take decisive action, Malaysia bears the humiliation of being lumped with North Korea, Burma, Sudan and Zimbabwe in human trafficking

I call upon the newly minted Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein to immediately set up an independent task force including civil society organisations, or a parliamentary select committee to address these troubling concerns.

Also, the government should actively implement the anti-trafficking law, Asean’s Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers, and the immediate ratification of the United Nations (UN) 1967 Refugee Convention and the 2000 UN TIP (Trade in Persons) Protocol for the proper legal recognition of refugees within our borders, with a view to protect and promote the rights of migrants and refugees in the country and region.

The complicity of Malaysian authorities in human slavery should be an embarrassment to all Malaysians.

Charles Santiago
Klang Member of Parliament
Vice-chairperson of Selangor DAP

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3 Responses to “Modern-day slavery in Malaysia”

  1. Michael says:

    Hear hear!

  2. Mei Kuan says:

    Denial and pretence do not mean that the problem does not exist! It’s time the government looks at the issue … and addresses it rather than sweep it under the carpet. Every human being, regardless of status and situation, has rights and Malaysia must learn to place high priority on the value of human dignity.

  3. james au says:

    The BN governance of denial is demonstrated yet again. This “tidak apa” attitude is definitely sending Malaysia to its graveyard together with 24 million Malaysians. I’m beginning to understand the finer meaning of “1Malaysia”. Controlling the country by a small group of “empty brain” politicians who are sleeping on the job. Or are they part of this scam?

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