The United States has put Malaysia back on the blacklist of countries trafficking in people after removing the country from the list last year.
The State Department annual ‘Trafficking in Persons Report 2009’, which examined efforts in more than 173 countries to combat trafficking for forced labour, prostitution, military service and other purposes, has Malaysia sharing the blacklist with 16 other countries.
Among the 17 countries on the blacklist are Zimbabwe, Sudan and Saudi Arabia.
Malaysia is the one of five Asian nations on the blacklist – the others are Burma, Papua New Guinea, Fiji and North Korea.
“Malaysia is a destination and, to a lesser extent, a source and transit country for women and children trafficked for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation, and for men, women, and children trafficked for the purpose of forced labour,” said the report, which was released by the US State Department today.
Malaysia was elevated from the blacklist in 2008 to the ‘Tier 2′ watch list after plunging into the dreaded ‘Tier 3′ two years ago.
This is the third time Malaysia has been blacklisted – the first was in 2001 but its ranking improved to ‘Tier 2′ in subsequent years until 2007.
In that year, it was relegated to ‘Tier 3’ but last year, the report said “significant efforts being made to comply with minimum standards of combating human trafficking” which resulted in Malaysia being removed from the blacklist.
“Malaysia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so, despite some progress in enforcing the country’s new anti-trafficking law,” said the 2009 report.
It said that while the government took initial actions under the 2007 anti-trafficking law against sex trafficking, it has yet to fully address issues of human trafficking.
Refugees ‘sold’ by immigration officials
The report referred to another report by the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee two months ago which found the involvement of Immigration Department officials in trafficking Burmese refugees.
According to the report, Malaysian immigration officials sold refugees for approximately US$200 (RM700) per person to traffickers operating along Thailand’s southern border.
“In turn, the traffickers demanded ransom – ranging from US$300 (RM1,000) for children to US$575 (RM2,000) for adults – in exchange for their freedom.
“Informed sources estimated 20 percent of the victims were unable to pay the ransom, and were sold for the purpose of labour and commercial sexual exploitation.”
It said that so far little action has been taken since the released of the Senate foreign relations committee report in April.
“The Malaysian police is investigating the allegations with the cooperation of the Immigration Department, as publicly confirmed by the prime minister but no officials were arrested, prosecuted, or convicted for involvement in trafficking during the reporting period,” it lamented.
Migrant workers victimised
The report is also scathing in describing the country’s treatment of migrant labourers.
“Some migrant workers are victimised by their employers, employment agents, or traffickers who supply migrant labourers and victims of sex trafficking.
“Some victims suffer conditions including physical and sexual abuse, forced drug use, debt bondage, non-payment of wages, threats, confinement, and withholding of travel documents to restrict their freedom of movement.”
The report pointed out that the government continue to condone the confiscation of passports by employers, while employers passed the government’s ‘immigration levy’ on to the low-skilled migrant workers, which facilitated debt bondage.
It also said that women from Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Cambodia, Vietnam, Burma, Mongolia, and China are forced into prostitution after being lured to Malaysia with promises of legitimate employment.
The report concluded that the government had made only “limited efforts” to prevent trafficking in persons over the last year.
“As a regional economic leader approaching developed nation status, Malaysia has the resources and government infrastructure to do more in addressing trafficking in persons,” said the report.
Could face sanctions
Countries on the blacklist could face sanctions, including the withholding by US of non-humanitarian, non-trade related foreign aid.
They would also be subject to withholding of funding for government officials to participate in educational and cultural exchange programmes.
On a bright note, the report named Malaysia’s Alice Nah as one of its nine 2009 ‘heroes’.
Nah (left), who is from the Migration Working Group, has raised government and public awareness through online articles describing the plight of trafficking victims, refugees, and migrant workers.
“In January 2009, Nah wrote about the trafficking of Burmese refugees along the Malaysia-Thailand border. Her article increased local and international attention to the issue and raised public awareness within Malaysia,” it said.