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Date [ 2014-07-08, 04:53 ]

The country is accused of taking insufficient action against human trafficking.


(Kuala Lumpur=Koreanpress) RamaniRathir= In its Trafficking in People report, the US has downgraded not only Malaysia but three other countries.  These are Thailand, Venezuela and Gambia. The US government has accused these countries, along with Malaysia, of just making broken promises.

Its Trafficking in Person Report (TIP), the US State Department has pushed these countries to Tier 3, the lowest ranking. Countries that make no effort to combat modern slavery are put in this category.

The report cites that Malaysia is a destination and, to a lesser extent, a source and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labour and women and children subjected to sex trafficking. The overwhelming majority of trafficking victims are among the estimated two million documented and two million or more undocumented foreign workers in Malaysia.

 Foreign workers typically migrate willingly to Malaysia from other countries in Asia—primarily Indonesia, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Nepal, Burma, Cambodia, Vietnam, India, Thailand, and Laos—in search of greater economic opportunities. Some of the migrants subsequently encounter forced labour or debt bondage at the hands of their employers, employment agents or informal labour recruiters.

Many Malaysian recruitment companies, known as ‘outsourcing companies,’recruit workers from foreign countries. Contractor-based labour arrangements of this type, create vulnerabilities for workers whose day-to-day employers do not generally bear legal responsibility for exploitative practices. Often times, foreign workers suffer under the law when employers neglect to obtain proper documentation for workers or employ workers in sectors other than that for which they were granted an employment visa.

Then there is the complex system of recruitment and contracting fees, often deducted from workers’ wages, and make them vulnerable to debt bondage. The Malaysian government policy, implemented in January 2013,of foreign workers having to pay their immigration and employment authorization increases this risk.

A significant number of young foreign women are recruited ostensibly for  work in Malaysian restaurants, hotels and beauty salons, but are subsequently coerced into the commercial sex trade. Some Vietnamese women and girls enter into brokered marriages in Malaysia and are subsequently forced into prostitution. NGOs report Ugandan, Somali, and Ethiopian women are fraudulently recruited to Malaysia for ostensibly legitimate work, but subsequently forced into prostitution. Victims from Nigeria and Rwanda have also been identified. Malaysian authorities report that large organized crime syndicates are responsible for some instances of trafficking.

Many migrant workers on agricultural plantations, at construction sites, in textile factories, and in homes as domestic workers throughout Malaysia are exploited and subjected to practices indicative of forced labour, such as restrictions on movement, deceit and fraud in wages, passport confiscation, and imposition of significant debts by recruitment agents or employers.

NGOs have reported allegations that workers on palm oil plantations are subjected to forced labour. Passport confiscation and contract violations remain widespread, particularly among Malaysia’s estimated 380,000 foreign domestic workers. Some Malaysian employers reportedly withheld three to nine months’ wages from foreign domestic workers in order to recoup recruitment agency fees and other debt bonds.

The Government of Cambodia officially prohibits its nationals from travelling to Malaysia for domestic work; however, some women continue to enter the country using tourist visas to engage in domestic work, and some who arrived prior to the imposition of the ban have been subjected to domestic servitude.

Refugees in Malaysia lack formal status or the ability to obtain work permits under Malaysian law, making them vulnerable to trafficking. Many incur large smuggling debts; traffickers use these debts to subject some refugees to debt bondage. UNHCR estimates 80,000 Filipino Muslims without legal status, including 10,000 children, reside in Sabah. Some children from refugee communities are reportedly subjected to forced begging. Stateless persons in Sabah—some of whom are unaccompanied children of Filipino and Indonesian migrant workers who have been deported—as well as refugees in this region, are vulnerable to forced child labour and debt bondage.

The US State Department has reported that the Government of Malaysia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. In the 2012 and 2013 Trafficking in Persons Reports, Malaysia was granted consecutive waivers as provided by the Trafficking Victims Protection Authorization Act (TVPA). But having  passed themaximum of two consecutive waivers and deemed not to be making significant efforts to comply with the minimum standards, the country was pushed down to Tier 3.

The Malaysian government was said to have made limited efforts to improve its flawed victim protection regime. Trafficking victims were detained periods of time that sometimes exceeded a year; victims had limited freedom of movement and were not allowed to work outside the facilities. The government provided minimal basic services to those staying in its shelters; NGOs—with no financial support from the government—provided the majority of rehabilitation and counseling services.

The government had promised  to operate a new shelter for trafficking victims and allocate funds to support the shelter by 2013. It has now been pushed to late 2014. It also announced  plans to allow certain foreign labour trafficking victims to work while living in shelters but to date this policy has not been implemented.

Recommendations for Malaysia

Among the numerous recommendations made. some of the important ones are amending the anti-trafficking law and government regulations to allow trafficking victims to travel, work, and reside outside government facilities. Improve victim identification efforts, including implementing procedures to identify labour trafficking victims among vulnerable groups, such as migrant workers.

Prohibit employers from confiscating passports; apply stringent criminal penalties to those involved in fraudulent labour recruitment or forced labour.

Increase efforts to investigate,  prosecute and punish public officials who may profit from trafficking or who exploit victims. At the same time, increase training for officials on the effective handling of sex and labour trafficking cases.

Consider funding specialized NGOs to provide victims in government facilities regular access to legal services and effective counseling in their native languages; make greater efforts to educate migrant workers of their rights and legal recourses available.

Act against traffickers or employers who fail to meet their legal obligations; and increase transnational cooperation with other governments in the region on enforcing anti-trafficking laws.The Laos and Chinese governments reported cooperating with Malaysian authorities on trafficking investigations in 2013.


Prosecution

The Government of Malaysia decreased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts, reporting fewer investigations and convictions related to human trafficking in 2013 than 2012. The November 2010 amendments to the law broadened the definition of trafficking to include all actions involved in acquiring or maintaining the labour or services of a person through coercion.

To this end, it hired an additional 101 officers to staff Malaysia’s anti-trafficking police unit. Malaysia’s 2007 Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act (amended) prohibits all forms of human trafficking and prescribes punishments of up to 20 years imprisonment, penalties that are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious offenses, such as rape. The government also reported hiring 63 people who will specialize in combating trafficking in the Immigration Department.


The government reported initiating 89 new investigations of trafficking cases in 2013, a decrease from 190 investigations in 2012. The Attorney General’s office reported initiating prosecutions against 34 defendants for alleged human trafficking offenses; the government initiated 63 prosecutions against an unknown number of defendants in 2012. The government convicted nine traffickers (five for sex trafficking and four for forced labour), a decrease from 21 traffickers (11 for sex trafficking and 10 for forced labor) convicted in 2012. Sentences ranged from three to 15 years’ imprisonment for each trafficking charge and averaged 5.8 years.

Poor government treatment of victims remained a significant impediment to successful prosecutions. NGOs reported referring cases of alleged labour and sex trafficking to the government, some of which the authorities failed to investigate. NGOs reported that police and Labor Department officials often failed to investigate complaints of confiscation of passports and travel documents or withholding of wages—especially involving domestic workers—as possible trafficking offenses; these front-line officers failed to recognize indicators of trafficking and instead treated these cases as immigration violations.

Meanwhile press reports continued to accuse some immigration officials of facilitating smuggling, including the transportation of trafficking victims. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees’ complicit in human trafficking. It did not report information regarding investigations targeting recruitment agencies or other intermediaries who may be involved in trafficking.

Protection

The government was said to have made limited and inadequate efforts to improve its flawed victim protection regime. Malaysian authorities detained trafficking victims in government facilities as part of a court-ordered protection measure. Lasting 90 days, some were detained for more than a year, before being deported to their home countries after their detention ended.

Under Malaysia’s anti-trafficking law, government-identified trafficking victims are required to stay in government-approved shelters. Thus it  operates five facilities to house victims of trafficking. The Ministry of Women, Family, and Community Development operates three facilities for women—one in Kuala Lumpur, one in Johor Bahru, and one in Kota Kinabalu. This department also operates one shelter for child trafficking victims in NegeriSembilan with the Home Ministry operating Malaysia’s only shelter for male trafficking victims in Malacca.

The government detained foreign victims in these facilities 24 hours per day, with few exceptions. It did not allow foreign adult victims to leave the facilities without a chaperone—and only then for hospital visits or court appearances under the custody of the police.

The government provided some basic services to those staying in its shelters. NGOs—with no financial support from the government—provided the majority of victim rehabilitation and counseling services.

No detailed budget information on its victim protection programmes has been released, but it reported allocating the equivalent of approximately US$1,221,000 to the Ministry of Home Affairs for anti-trafficking work and US$909,000 for the Women’s Ministry in its 2014 budget.

What has come to light is that the government’s policy of forcing trafficking victims into government facilities discouraged victims from bringing cases to the government’s attention or cooperating with authorities. Prosecutors attributed the high acquittal rate of trafficking cases in part to the lack of victim cooperation. Some foreign embassies sheltered victims directly to expedite their repatriation and protect them from detention in Malaysian facilities during lengthy criminal proceedings.

Some NGOs reported that they did not refer victims to the police, as they believed doing so was detrimental to the welfare of the victims. Malaysia’s anti-trafficking law provides victims immunity from criminal prosecutions for some crimes as a result of being trafficked; however, victims whose cases did not result in a prosecution generally were not granted a protection order and were transferred to immigration detention facilities for deportation.

Prevention

On the plus side, the Malaysian government improved efforts to prevent human trafficking during the reporting period. National Anti-Trafficking and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants Council(MAPO), headed by the Home Ministry, included representation from multiple government entities. The Ministry of Health joined MAPO in 2013 and began providing health screenings to foreign victims in shelters. MAPO continued to meet monthly to coordinate the government’s anti-trafficking response.

 As in previous years, NGOs reported varying degrees of inclusion in the government’s anti-trafficking policymaking; some NGOs were formally affiliated with MAPO, and others were not included in policy discussions related to their areas of expertise. NGOs reported that it was difficult to assess the government’s progress in implementing Malaysia’s 2014-2015 anti-trafficking action plans.

The government reported producing 6,078 public service radio announcements and 6,032 public service television announcements to raise awareness of human trafficking during the reporting period—a significant increase from public service efforts during the previous year. It also produced advertisements in newspapers and pamphlets and on billboards to raise awareness of trafficking issues.

During the year, 1,351 Bangladeshis entered Malaysia to work under a January 2013 memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Governments of Bangladesh and Malaysia that reinstated a formal labour migration channel between the countries. Existing agreements with Indonesia and the Philippines provided some protections for domestic workers from these countries.

In October 2013, the government ceased to allow Indonesians to enter Malaysia and then obtain a “journey performed” work permit; workers and agents had used this type of visa to circumvent Indonesian government regulations governing migration for positions as domestic workers.

The government did not finalize an MOU to govern the employment of Cambodian domestic workers in Malaysia, and the Cambodian government’s 2011 ban on Cambodian women’s travel to Malaysia for domestic work remained in effect.In late 2013, the Thai and Malaysian governments finalized a bilateral MOU to share information to combat human trafficking.

Domestic workers remained excluded from a number of protections under Malaysian labour law, including the country’s recently implemented minimum wage. The government did not take measures to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. It provided anti-trafficking training to Malaysian troops prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions.

Repercussions

Malaysia’s fall to Tier 3 may strain diplomatic relations with the US. It may affect Malaysia’s position as a strategic partner in President Obama's turn around to the East. It is yet to be seen whether there will be any fall out in  the US being Malaysia's largest foreign investor and fourth-largest trading partner.

"Unfortunately Malaysia's victim care regime is fundamentally flawed," said Luis CdeBaca, the ranking state department official for combating trafficking. "Malaysia has a strong focus on getting rid of illegal aliens rather than a progressive compassionate response to its many victims of trafficking. There have been lots of promised future action but no signs of things happening on the ground to deal with their significant problems."

Malaysia's Deputy Home Minister, Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, has stated Malaysia’s position by informing, ”We are in a very difficult position. Yes, we need knew to increase trafficking victims' rights, yet we don’t want to encourage illegal migration to our borders.If we allow these people to start working, everybody will start coming here."

Malaysia will now have to find the right balance between helping human trafficking victims and national security.

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