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'Malaysia at risk of US trafficking report downgrade amid UN criticism'
Published on: Tuesday, May 14, 2024
By: FMT, Jason Thomas, Amirul Aiman
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'Malaysia at risk of US trafficking report downgrade amid UN criticism'
Many Bangladeshi workers have been duped into signing up for non-existent jobs in Malaysia, only to be detained by the authorities on their arrival. (Photo: China Press via FMT)
PETALING JAYA: Activists fear Malaysia is at risk of being downgraded to Tier 3 in the upcoming Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report in view of criticisms by UN experts and major international agencies, alongside concerns of recruitment quota fraud.

Migrant rights activist Andy Hall said Malaysia’s systemic failure to effectively combat labour trafficking justified an immediate downgrade in the TIP report issued by the US State Department.

Hall claimed that despite repeated red flags raised to Malaysian authorities on allegations of trafficking, there has been little to no action on their part.

Most of these cases have also been shared with the US State Department, he told FMT.

“Based on many years of unsuccessful engagement with the Malaysian government on these and other similar cases of alleged human trafficking and forced labour, I conclude that a failed migrant work management and recruitment system persists in the country,” he said.

He claimed the system fostered impunity, lacked adherence to the rule of law and provided little to no accountability over the plight of victims.

The TIP Report is an annual assessment that evaluates global trafficking trends, focusing on government efforts in prosecution, protection and prevention.

Malaysia is now on Tier 2 (watch list) of the ranking, placing it among countries that do not fully comply with US minimum standards but are making significant efforts to do so.

The country’s ranking was upgraded to Tier 2 (watch list) last year after being downgraded to Tier 3 – which put it at risk of possible export sanctions – in 2021. Malaysia was in Tier 3 in 2022 as well.

The plight of Bangladeshi workers, who now account for the lion’s share of migrant labour in Malaysia, has taken centre stage lately.

Early this month, three international organisations expressed concern over allegations that some of these workers were duped into coming to Malaysia on promises of non-existent jobs.

The International Organization for Migration, International Labour Organization and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime said they were ready to support efforts to meet the immediate needs of those stranded.

The three organisations said their efforts would include enhancing the migrant workers’ access to justice and basic services as well as long-term efforts to find rights-based and sustainable solutions to their problem.

In April, a group of experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council urged Malaysia to enhance protection for Bangladeshi migrant workers who have been lured into the country with false promises of jobs.

This was in response to multiple reports of migrants being deceived into signing up for jobs in non-existent companies in Malaysia.

These workers put themselves at risk of being detained, mistreated and deported.

Hall described human resources minister Steven Sim’s assurances of action as “woefully inadequate”.

Sim had announced last Thursday that a special unit within the labour department would be set up to address complaints from migrant workers.

Hall said there was already a pattern of lacklustre engagement and insufficient measures to address the core issues.

Parti Sosialis Malaysia migrant desk coordinator Mohana Rani Rasiah warned that the government’s “sluggish and ineffective” response to the migrant worker issue will further diminish Malaysia’s reputation on the international stage.

“The recruitment quota fraud crisis is bound to affect our ranking. There is an urgent need for new standard operating procedures (SOPs) to help labour departments address the grievances of victims,” she said.

Mohana said enforcement agencies also need to adopt new SOPs to protect the highly vulnerable workers, especially those whose passports have been confiscated.

“Putrajaya must not show any leniency to the perpetrators. We must ensure justice for the workers and their families,” she added.

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