By Steven Sim
The annual US State Department Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report was released yesterday.
Malaysia improved our position from “Tier 2 Watch List”, where we were since 2015, to “Tier 2” this year.
The last time we were in Tier 2 was 13 years ago in 2004 when the government amended the Anti-Money Laundering Act to enable the seizure of assets linked to trafficking activities.
Thus, it is clear that when there are significant actions by the federal government, our ranking in the TIP Report does indeed improve.
With regards to this, kudos to the federal government and agencies involved for the improved efforts in combating human trafficking.
However, we must not celebrate just yet.
The definition of Tier 2 is: “Countries whose governments DO NOT fully comply with the minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.”
In other words, Malaysia still has not complied with international standards to fight human trafficking.
Insider syndicates still not crushed
There are still many low-hanging issues which the federal government has not addressed.
The most glaring problem is the failure to deal with the insider syndicates.
The 2017 TIP Report on Malaysia agreed when it stated that, “complicity among law enforcement officials, in the form of accepting bribes to allow undocumented border crossings, hampered some anti-trafficking efforts. While authorities investigated these crimes, culpable officials typically avoided punishment.”
Take for example the horrifying discovery of the Wang Kelian migrant death camp at the Malaysia-Thai border in 2015 where 12 policemen were detained under anti-trafficking laws. After two years, all of them were released due to a lack of strong evidence against them. In the end, only three foreigners were sentenced in relation to Wang Kelian.
While I do not want to jump the gun on these officials, it is clear that such death camps, with almost 200 graves discovered and known to locals in the surrounding areas, cannot exist outside the knowledge of the authorities. NGOs such as Tenaganita have long reported the existence of such camps in our country.
Clearly, insiders in cohort are still roaming free and are still actively committing outrageous crimes.
Another example, a recent special investigative report in March 2017 by Malaysiakini, working together with Indonesian journalists, exposed an intricate network of human trafficking taking place between Malaysia and Indonesia due to collusion of government officials from both countries.
Yet another example, also recent, was the exposé in the media in May 2017 that a major development in Johor, which is jointly-owned by the Johor government, employs undocumented migrant workers from China, right under the watch of authorities at all levels.
The government itself acknowledged this problem.
Various reports, ranging from the 2009 US Senate Foreign Relations Committee to our own police force to various civil society groups have warned of the involvement of “insiders” in human trafficking activities in Malaysia. These insiders include border guards, police, immigration officers as well as members of the Rela voluntary corp.
In May 2016, over 100 immigration department staff, mostly stationed at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), were implicated for sabotaging the computerised immigration management system to facilitate various violations of immigration laws.
The immigration department director-general at that time also admitted that the insiders syndicate had been in operation for at least six years until it was busted.
RCI on immigration reform to achieve Tier 1
I have on numerous occasions, raised in Parliament and in the media on the need to revamp the whole immigration department through a Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) on immigration reform.
There are just too many gaps, from the insiders syndicate to loopholes due to weaknesses in the services provided by private vendors appointed without open tenders, to the disorganised, haphazard, random and senseless immigration policy, especially with regards to migrant workers.
All these continue to make Malaysia an attractive haven to human traffickers.
If the government is serious in improving our ranking to Tier 1, it must not hesitate to convene a RCI on immigration reform.
Steven Sim is Bukit Mertajam MP and deputy spokesman of DAP’s Parliamentary Committee on Human Resources.