[ Country-by-Country Reports ]

MALAYSIA (TIER 3)   [Extracted from U.S. State Dept Trafficking in Persons Report, June 2009]

Malaysia is a destination and, to a lesser extent, a source and transit country for women and children trafficked for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation and for men, women, and children trafficked for the purpose of forced labor. Malaysia is mainly a destination country for men, women, and children who migrate willingly from Indonesia, Nepal, Thailand, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the Philippines, Burma, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, and Vietnam for work – usually legal, contractual labor – and are subsequently subjected to conditions of involuntary servitude in the domestic, agricultural, food service, construction, plantation, industrial, and fisheries sectors. Some foreign women and girls are also victims of commercial sexual exploitation. Some migrant workers are victimized by their employers, employment agents, or traffickers who supply migrant laborers and victims of sex trafficking. Some victims suffer conditions including physical and sexual abuse, forced drug use, debt bondage, non-payment of wages, threats, confinement, and withholding of travel documents to restrict their freedom of movement. Some female migrants from Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Cambodia, Vietnam, Burma, Mongolia, and the PRC are forced into prostitution after being lured to Malaysia with promises of legitimate employment. Individual employment agents, which are sometimes used as fronts for human trafficking, sold women and girls into brothels, karaoke bars, or passed them to sex traffickers. There were reports of Malaysians, specifically women and girls from indigenous groups and rural areas, trafficked within the country for labor and commercial sexual exploitation. Burmese migrants, including some Burmese registered with the United Nations as refugees, a legal status not recognized by the Malaysian government, are trafficked for forced labor. To a lesser extent, some Malaysian women, primarily of Chinese ethnicity and from indigenous groups and rural areas, are trafficked abroad to destinations including Singapore, Hong Kong, France, and the United Kingdom, for commercial sexual exploitation.

There were a number of credible reports of Malaysian immigration authorities’ involvement in the trafficking of Burmese refugees from immigration detention centers to the Thai-Malaysian border. Several credible sources reported that immigration officials sold refugees for approximately $200 per person to traffickers operating along Thailand’s southern border. In turn, the traffickers demanded ransom – ranging from $300 for children to $575 for adults – in exchange for their freedom. Informed sources estimated 20 percent of the victims were unable to pay the ransom, and were sold for the purpose of labor and commercial sexual exploitation. The Malaysian and Indonesian governments did not amend or replace a 2006 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the two countries covering the employment of Indonesian women as domestic servants in Malaysia. The MOU authorizes Malaysian employers to confiscate and hold the passport of the domestic employee throughout the term of employment. Although the MOU stated that domestic workers should be paid directly and be given time off in lieu of overtime, it remained common practice for employers to deposit wages with recruiting agencies as repayment for debts. NGOs reported that many Indonesian household workers were required to work 14 to 18 hours a day, seven days a week.

The Government of Malaysia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so, despite some progress in enforcing the country’s new anti-trafficking law. While the government took initial actions under the anti-trafficking law against sex trafficking, it has yet to fully address trafficking in persons issues, particularly labor trafficking in Malaysia. Credible allegations, including those released in an April 2009 formal report by the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, of involvement of Malaysian immigration officials in trafficking and extorting Burmese refugees overshadowed initial steps by the Immigration Department to address human trafficking. The Royal Malaysian Police is investigating the allegations with the cooperation of the Immigration Department, as publicly confirmed by the Prime Minister, but no officials were arrested, prosecuted, or convicted for involvement in trafficking during the reporting period. The government did not develop mechanisms to screen effectively victims of trafficking in vulnerable groups. The government also continued to allow for the confiscation of passports by employers of migrant workers – a common practice in Malaysia. This practice is recognized by many in the international anti-trafficking community as facilitating trafficking. The practice of withholding the salaries of foreign domestic workers for three to six months so the employer can recover the levy paid to hire the worker remained widely practiced. As a regional economic leader approaching developed nation status, Malaysia has the resources and government infrastructure to do more in addressing trafficking in persons.

Recommendations for Malaysia: Fully implement and enforce the comprehensive anti-trafficking in persons law; increase the number of prosecutions, convictions, and sentences for both sex and labor trafficking; adopt and disseminate proactive procedures to identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable groups such as migrant workers and foreign women and children arrested for prostitution; apply stringent criminal penalties to those involved in fraudulent labor recruitment or exploitation o forced labor; ensure that victims of trafficking are not threatened or otherwise punished for crimes committed as a result of being trafficked; re-examine existing MOUs with source countries to incorporate victim protection and revoke passport or travel document confiscation; increase efforts to prosecute and convict public officials who profit from or are involved in trafficking; expand the training of law enforcement, immigration, prosecutors, and judges on the use of the 2007 trafficking law; implement and support a comprehensive and visible anti-trafficking awareness campaign directed at employers and clients of the sex trade; and increase efforts to prosecute and convict public officials who profit from, or are involved in trafficking, or who exploit victims.

The Government of Malaysia made some progress in investigating sex trafficking offenses and punishing trafficking offenders during the reporting period, but has not demonstrated efforts to investigate, prosecute, or convict offenders of labor trafficking. Malaysian law prohibits all forms of human trafficking through its July 2007 comprehensive anti-trafficking law, which prescribes penalties that are commensurate with those prescribed for other grave offenses, such as rape. In December 2008, the government convicted its first trafficking offender under the 2007 anti-trafficking law; an Indian national convicted of forcing a female domestic worker into prostitution was sentenced to eight years in prison. The government also initiated prosecutions against an additional six alleged traffickers, one of whom fled while on bail. Although there were credible reports of government officials’ direct involvement in human trafficking, none were arrested, prosecuted, or punished for trafficking. The Prime Minister and Inspector General of Police reported that the government is actively investigating the allegations. In July 2008, the Director-General of Immigration and his Deputy Director-General were arrested for graft and corruption involving the acceptance of bribes for issuance of visas and visitation passes. Informed observers speculate this corruption facilitated trafficking in persons. There were reports of a significant number of migrant laborers trafficked to Malaysia and widespread media reporting of the trafficking conditions many of these workers face. The government did not report any criminal prosecutions of employers who subjected workers to conditions of forced labor or labor recruiters who used deceptive practices and debt bondage to compel migrant workers into involuntary servitude.

During the reporting period, there were several NGO and media reports of groups of foreign workers subjected to conditions of forced labor in Malaysia. In August 2008, following an investigative news report, more than 1,000 foreign workers at a Malaysian factory producing apparel for a U.S. company were found subjected to squalid living conditions, confiscation of their passports, withheld wages, and exploitative wage deductions – conditions indicative of forced labor. Following its own investigation, the U.S. company stated that it found major labor violations committed by the local factory, though a Malaysian government official reportedly responded by saying that the local factory’s management did not breach any labor laws. Moreover, the Malaysian government did not respond with a criminal investigation of the allegations.

In February 2009, a Malaysian newspaper revealed a case of 140 Bangladeshi workers locked in a small apartment. The workers each reportedly paid recruiters $5,000 to $13,000 to find them jobs in Malaysia; however, the recruiters passed the workers to a Malaysian employment agency, which upon their arrival in Malaysia, confiscated their passports and work permits and did not pay their wages for three to six months in most cases, although some individuals were not paid in more than a year. The Malaysian government is investigating the case as a labor dispute rather than a human trafficking case. In 2008, a local NGO coordinated with police in Sarawak to rescue 17 male Cambodians forced to work on commercial fishing boats and repatriated them to Cambodia. The government did not prosecute any employers who confiscated passports of migrant workers or confined them to the workplace. Some employers who hired foreign migrant workers held the wages of their employees in ‘escrow’ until completion of a contract.

While Malaysia showed modest efforts to protect victims of sex trafficking during the reporting period, its efforts to protect victims of labor trafficking remained inadequate. Numerous source country governments of migrant workers in Malaysia expressed concern about the lack of legal protections in place for foreign workers, particularly those subjected to involuntary servitude. There was no widespread effort by the Government of Malaysia to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable migrant groups, such as girls and women detained for involvement in prostitution or the thousands of undocumented migrant workers rounded up by RELA, a government-sponsored public security auxiliary force. As a result, some unidentified victims, including children, detained by immigration authorities were routinely processed as illegal migrants and held in prisons or illegal migrant detention facilities prior to deportation. In some cases, especially those involving deportation over land borders, this made victims vulnerable to being re-trafficked by traffickers operating at the borders such as along the Malaysian-Indonesian border on Borneo. Police reported rescuing about 2,000 foreign women and minors forced into prostitution during raids on brothels in 2008. The government deported or voluntarily repatriated most of the victims to their home countries, referring some to their respective embassy shelters and processing a limited number as victims under the anti-trafficking law. The Ministry for Women, Family, and Community Development continued to run two trafficking shelters, which held suspected and confirmed trafficking victims until they were repatriated to their home countries. In 2008, the Ministry renovated a third shelter in the East Malaysian state of Sabah. In 2008, the police referred 98 potential trafficking victims to the government shelters in Kuala Lumpur, 34 of which were certified by magistrates as officially recognized trafficking victims. Police also referred hundreds of suspected trafficking victims to local and diplomatic missions operating victims’ shelters; the government cooperated with the embassies’ repatriation of victims, but did not offer other assistance. Foreign migrant laborers, legal and illegal, lacked regular access to legal counsel in cases of contract violations and abuse, although in a small percentage of cases workers filed complaints under the labor laws. Some suspected trafficking victims continued to be housed at immigration detention centers pending repatriation. The government offered no facilities for male trafficking victims. While victims may file a civil suit against exploiters under Malaysian law, they are unable to work while their suit is being considered, thus discouraging such attempts at restitution. Immigration authorities did not screen foreign women arrested for prostitution for identification as trafficking victims, but instead processed them for quick deportation. The government does not provide legal alternatives to the removal of victims to countries where they may face hardship or retribution.

Malaysia made limited efforts to prevent trafficking in persons over the last year. Senior officials, including the Prime Minister, Inspector General of Police, and the Minister for Women, Family, and Community Development, spoke out more routinely against trafficking crimes, and the government-influenced media carried numerous reports that raised awareness of trafficking. The Women’s Ministry developed information brochures on trafficking in English and Malay for NGOs to distribute to the public, and started a women’s hotline for victims of trafficking. The government condoned the confiscation of passports by employers. Employers passed the government’s “immigration levy” on to the low-skilled workers, which facilitated debt bondage. There were no visible measures taken by the government to reduce the demand for forced labor or for commercial sex acts. Protection officers from the Women’s Ministry received specialized training on assisting victims. The government provided anti-trafficking training through its Peacekeeping Training Center at Port Dickson to troops preparing to deploy to international peacekeeping missions. The government has not ratified the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.