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JUNE 22 — The Ministry of Foreign Affairs wishes to refer to the US State Department Trafficking in Persons Report 2014 that was released in Washington DC on 20 June 2014. Wisma Putra wishes to express its disappointment over the Report which downgraded Malaysia to Tier 3 from the previous standing of Tier 2 Watch List.
Malaysia wishes to reiterate that the country is serious and committed in addressing the issue of human trafficking and smuggling of migrants. This commitment is manifested through the significant efforts undertaken to improve the existing mechanisms and to effectively combat this heinous crime.
Despite claims that Malaysia made insufficient progress and improvements in areas of prosecution, prevention and protection, on the contrary, Malaysia has consistently pursued measures and initiatives in addressing the issues of trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants. The US State Department itself in this 2014 report acknowledged these positive measures in efforts to protect victims, where certain victims of labour trafficking were allowed to reside and work in Malaysia.
Malaysia believes that information that was used in the preparation of the Report was flawed, inaccurate and did not reflect measures and steps taken by the respective Malaysian authorities to counter the scourge of trafficking in persons in Malaysia, as a whole. We also believe that the source of the information used by the authorities in the United States of America were not credible. Relying on unverified information, provided by dubious organisations, might have led to this conclusion in the Report.
Malaysia has a long and distinguished record of being temporary home to migrants from the South East Asia region and beyond. Currently, it is estimated that 35,000 Rohingyas call Malaysia home. The Government of Malaysia has done everything permitted under its domestic laws to ease the sufferings of these migrants, with the hope that they would be resettled in a third country or choose to return to their homes when the situation improves. While Malaysia has been doing everything expected from a responsible member of the international community to address the issue of trafficking in persons, irrespective of nationality, it should not be expected to carry out a policy of treating migrants better than its own nationals.
A new policy, which came into effect on 1 March 2014, allows victims of labour trafficking, that do not require further care and protection at shelter homes, to work and reside in Malaysia. Currently, the issuance of work permits under this new policy were limited to labour trafficking cases involving salary disputes, and subject to conditions set by the Council of Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants (MAPO). Malaysia, in November 2013, also launched the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for enforcement agencies as a source of reference. This SOP also serves as a guideline for enforcement officers in combating trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants that will eventually lead to the increase in criminal convictions.
In addition to these new measures, in March 2014, the Malaysian Government finalised the establishment of a shelter home in Bandar Sri Damansara, as well as has approved seed funding amounting to more than RM800,000 for the operation of the shelter home. This shelter home is a pilot project, where its management and daily operations are undertaken by an NGO as part of the Government’s continuous efforts to enhance cooperation with NGOs in improving the detention environment of trafficked victims. More such homes are being considered for the future.
On the bilateral front, Malaysia continues to collaborate with key countries to enhance information sharing, intelligence networking and monitoring of human smuggling activities. To this effect, Malaysia has signed Memoranda of Understanding on transnational organised crime with six countries, namely Bangladesh, Canada, People's Republic of China, Saudi Arabia, United Kingdom and United States of America.
At the regional level, Malaysia, through ASEAN, plays a pivotal role in curbing trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrant activities. ASEAN cooperation on trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants takes place within the framework of the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Transnational Crime (AMMTC) and the Annual Senior Officials Meeting (SOMTC). As a member of the Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime (Bali Process), Malaysia continues to support the practical measures to help combat people smuggling, trafficking in persons and related transnational crime in the Asia-Pacific region.
Combating trafficking in persons is still a work in progress for Malaysia. The Government of Malaysia will spare no efforts to eradicate this heinous crime and will continue to work in the ambit of the main domestic laws relating to trafficking in persons, namely the Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants Act (ATIPSOM) 2007. This law is being reviewed from time to time to ensure its relevance and effectiveness.
Malaysia has taken substantive measures in the past two years to improve the situation related to human trafficking and smuggling of migrants. In this light, the US State Department should reconsider its assessment on Malaysia, taking into account the measures that are currently being implemented, including the efforts underlined above.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malay Mail Online.