KUALA LUMPUR, June 16 — Malaysia has been upgraded to Tier 2 Watchlist of the US' Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report for 2023, with US authorities saying Malaysia has not met the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts.
In its latest 2023 report, Malaysia falls among other Southeast Asian countries like Brunei and Vietnam, and many other African countries in the Tier 2 watchlist.
Last year, Malaysia was on Tier 3, deemed as not to be making enough effort to combat human trafficking and migrant smuggling crimes with anti-trafficking investigations declining and fewer prosecutions of government officials allegedly involved in such crimes.
Malaysia has been in Tier 3 for two years since 2021. It was on Tier 2 Watch List for the previous three years, from 2018 to 2020, although it was ranked on Tier 2 in 2017.
Prior to that, it was again on Tier 2 Watch List from 2015 to 2016.
Countries are ranked by tier, with Tier 1 as the highest of the four. Placements are made based on the extent of government efforts to meet the minimum standards of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act 2000 (TVPA).
Tier 1 countries are the highest ranked, those whose governments fully meet the minimum standards of the TVPA while Tier 2 countries do not but are making significant efforts.
Tier 2 Watch List countries are those whose governments do not fully meet the minimum standards but are making significant efforts to do so, and for which the estimated number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing and the country is not taking proportional concrete actions.
They also comprise those in which there is a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year, including increased investigations, prosecutions, and convictions of trafficking crimes, increased assistance to victims, and decreasing evidence of complicity in severe forms of trafficking by government officials.
Countries whose governments neither meet the minimum standards nor making significant efforts to do so are placed on Tier 3 and may be subject to certain restrictions on foreign assistance.
The report said that there were an increasing number of China-based organised crime syndicates posing as labour brokers using social media to recruit East African and Asian workers with English proficiency or technical backgrounds for promising lucrative jobs supposedly in Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, and elsewhere in the region.
“Upon arrival, victims are transported to large compounds, known as 'scam factories,' located in Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, and the Philippines, where their passports are confiscated and they experience physical and sexual violence.
“Traffickers force victims to defraud strangers in online cryptocurrency and romance scams and illegal gambling operations,” said the report.
Traffickers have taken advantage of the pandemic-induced economic downturn to prey on the unemployed and run casinos and shell companies operating in unused hotels and other rented and bespoke commercial spaces.
“They used fake job listings to recruit adults and children from dozens of countries including Malaysia.
“Rather than fulfilling their advertised employment promises, many of these companies began forcing the recruits to run internet scams directed at international targets and subjecting them to a wide range of abuses and violations- including withheld travel and identity documentation; imposition of arbitrary debt; restricted access to food, water, medicine, communication, and movement; and threats, beatings, and electric shocks.”
The scam operations include quota-based fraudulent sales; illegal online gambling and investment schemes; and romance scams, in which the victim is forced to enter into a fake online relationship with and extract money from unsuspecting targets.
Traffickers force the victims to work up to 15 hours a day and, in some cases, “resell” the victims to other scam operations or subject them to sex trafficking if they do not agree to fraudulently recruit additional members, or if the victims do not meet impossibly high revenue quotas.
The 2022 Trafficking in Persons Report documented numerous instances of employers retaining migrant workers’ passports, from migrant Bangladeshi workers in Maldives, Bhutanese students in work-study programs in Japan and Malaysia, and Zimbabwean domestic workers in Oman.
This comes as a survey released by the United Nations' labour agency yesterday said that nearly a third of migrant workers employed in domestic households in Malaysia are working under forced labour conditions.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) identified conditions such as excessive working hours, unpaid overtime, low wages, restricted movement, and being unable to quit among its indicators of forced labour.