Malaysia should take trafficking of refugees seriously

   Malaysia should take trafficking of refugees seriously 

Comment: We think that the basic fundamental problem is the ordering of_ 

Entrusting the same parent organization to investigate the wrong doings of its members. 

For example, entrust the Police to investigate the wrong doings of the fellow police misdeed. See what happened in the DSAI’s black eye probe by the police. How can the lower raking officers reveal their IGP’s wrong doings? In addition, there is no guarantee of protection for the whistle blowers. After all, no one involved in cover-ups are punished. At least if they are not guilty of covering-up, they were incompetent to uncover the truth. 

Now Immigration department was entrusted with the internal investigations. When even the top two persons were charged related to corruption, who can confidently believe or trust that their findings are the truth? 

Another problem was the chiefs protecting their subordinates. Whether right or wrong, RELA chief and former Immigration DGs used to protect with the strong statements sometimes even without or before the investigations. 

Let us look at the other country, Thailand, which was recently accused of similar misdoings on Burmese migrants or refugees. We all know that the Thai PM is just a stooge of the Thai military. He became PM because of the military manipulated and supported illegal undemocratic means. So no wonder he is shamelessly defending the CRIMINAL THAILAND MILITARY who is suffering from ISLAMOPHOBIA. 
Just look at the pictures of Rohingyas arrested by the Thai army/navy, which reminded us the Tak Bai Muslim massacre by Thai criminal army in southern Thailand. In addition, the Thai Colonel had come out with defending his actions. By the way, how many of the Thai military personals or leaders are punished after their own investigation of the Tak Bai Muslim massacre? 

The last of all is the threatening warnings of the authorities even on the NGOs, international organizations or authorities from foreign countries. Let us not forget the Ms Irene Fernandez’s case. She was in trouble for dozen of years with the court case but no other person were ever charged from the side of alleged perpetrators. 

JAN 22 — Although denial is a common political strategy, it is still a terrible disappointment when used by our leaders — especially when their actions can curb violent crime and alleviate the suffering of many.

Last week, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee drew attention to the trafficking of migrants and refugees at the Malaysia-Thai border. They highlighted the shocking fact that Malaysian law enforcement officials are complicit in the “sale” of people to human smugglers/traffickers.

Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar denied this flatly, referring to them as “wild accusations”. To his credit, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi provided a more diplomatic reply, stating that the government did not tolerate such a practice and requested for information to be passed on for further action.

Multiple attempts have been made to alert the Malaysian government about the “sale” of migrants and refugees, which is prohibited under the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act 2007. NTV7 did an expose on this issue on Siasat Mandarin on May 3, 2008. Charles Santiago, MP for Klang, raised this in Parliament, asking the Home Affairs Minister whether this report would be investigated. He was informed on Oct 22, 2008 that the Immigration Department had carried out investigations and “found no evidence to prove this accusation”. It said it was “baseless” and that it “very difficult to associate it directly with the activities of immigration officials”.

In September 2008, Tenaganita released a book entitled The Revolving Door that chronicles, in disturbing detail, the experiences of refugees from Myanmar who had been detained, subjected to degrading treatment, and sold. Over the past year, national and international human rights groups have also reported such accounts of trafficking.

What happens at the border?

Deportees who have returned to Malaysia describe that they are brought from immigration detention depots to locations at the border under guard and in handcuffs in vehicles. When they disembark, they are forced to walk into areas guarded by human smugglers/traffickers. They have no way of escape. They are caught and kept under armed surveillance in confined, crowded and isolated locations, often deep in the jungle. Some women are raped repeatedly.

They are given handphones and instructed to contact family/friends to raise money for their release; they are beaten and threatened into submission. Prices vary between RM1,400 and RM2,500. Some who have dared to question why prices are so high have been told that this covers the amount paid to immigration officials. They are told to deposit the money into specific bank accounts. Once the money is deposited, they are brought in cars to designated locations and released. It costs more to be sent back to Malaysia; some are released in Thailand.

Those who are unable to pay are sold — men to work on fishing boats and plantations, and women to brothels or “private owners” who keep them in servitude for sex and/or forced labour. Those who have been forced to work on boats tell harrowing tales of having seen fellow workers shot and thrown overboard if they protest.

Thousands get deported every year to the Malaysia-Thai border. Of these, it is unclear how many are sold and how much money is paid to law enforcement officials. What is clear, judging from the multiple testimonies provided by numerous deportees, is that these transactions are a systematic practice.

The greatest tragedy of all, particularly for refugees who are afraid of persecution if they are sent home, is that purchasing their freedom under such risky circumstances is a way for them to negotiate their own safety. It gives them a way out of the dark nightmare that began when they were arrested — to be sent back to Myanmar is far worse. If they are lucky, they are able to go through the process of recapture and return having only lost money, although this puts them in debt, exacerbating existing poverty.

There are only two alternatives to getting “sold”, and these are restricted to the few refugees already registered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees at the time of their arrest. This first is to stay detained indefinitely in immigration detention depots awaiting possible resettlement, which takes months (if not years) and is not guaranteed to all. They often endure harsh conditions — overcrowding, poor food, lack of access to healthcare, as well as violence and abuse from fellow detainees and guards. When the breadwinner of the family is arrested, their wives and children are left in abject poverty.

The second is to be released into the care of the UNHCR, which is sometimes done on an ad hoc basis for particularly vulnerable refugees — pregnant women, babies, unaccompanied minors, and the severely ill. Even this latter option is not guaranteed and is subject to the vagaries of immigration officials who may or may not grant releases.

What needs to be done to end the smuggling and trafficking of migrants and refugees?

The first is to stop arresting refugees. Malaysia has obligations to protect the rights of vulnerable populations as a member of the United Nations and of the Human Rights Council, as well as to care for refugee women and children under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The international committees overseeing these two conventions have made strong recommendations for the protection of migrants and refugees, which Malaysia has failed to implement.

Instead of ripping up UNHCR documents, Rela and immigration officials should follow existing protocols set by the police to verify the identities of refugees and release them. In addition, as many refugees are still unregistered, UNHCR officials should be given full access to all those in detention depots, prisons and police lock-ups who claim asylum, to verify if they are refugees in need of international protection. All refugees should be released so that they do not face indefinite detention, which is a breach of human rights.

The second is to review the current approach to handling irregular migrants in Malaysia, which has resulted in severe human rights abuses. Procedures for arrest, detention and deportation must be reviewed, and whipping, which constitutes torture, must be stopped immediately! Ironically, it is precisely Malaysia’s imbalanced migration policies and procedures that have contributed to the growth rather than reduction of irregular migrants. Streamlining procedures for the recruitment and regularisation of migrants and refugees will also help to stem the smuggling and trafficking industry, which flourishes in Malaysia.

Thirdly, the government needs to enforce the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act more rigorously. It needs to provide law enforcement officials, prosecutors, the judiciary and social workers with necessary training, skills and resources to execute their duties. It needs to ensure that the public is aware of what trafficking constitutes, and educate them on how to report incidents to the Bukit Aman Anti-Human Trafficking Unit in a confidential manner, and with witness protection if necessary, so that perpetrators are punished and victims freed.

Ignoring and denying multiple reports of crime from different, credible sources that say the same thing does not help us solve problems in society — if anything, it makes us complicit. What we need are leaders to take these issues seriously so that Malaysia combats trafficking effectively.

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