Lim Sue Goan
How serious is human trafficking in Malaysia? The detention of seven immigration officers and two foreigners under the Internal Securty Act (ISA) has perhaps explained why the United States included Malaysia in the human trafficking blacklist.
It is certainly correct for the Home Ministry to take the issue seriously as it would not only damage the country's reputation, but also affect foreign investments and threaten national security.
Corruption among immigration and law enforcement officers is one of the factors that cause the surge in illegal immigrants and overstaying foreigners. Terrorists might also take the opportunity to freely enter the country.
However, invoking the ISA might only achieve a short-term deterrent effect, and not get to the roots of the problem. The government still needs to take drastic measures to eliminate the black sheep and resolve problems in the public domain, including corruption and lack of discipline, to curb human trafficking.
Another escape took place at the KL International Airport (KLIA) detention depot on 2 August 2010 and Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein ha given an ultimatum to his secretary-general Datuk Seri Mahmood Adam, and immigration director-general Datuk Abdul Rahman Othman to resolve the matter, warning that they might face the risk of being transferred if its was not properly handled.
Later, newspaper reports claimed that some immigration officers at the Pulau Ketam jetty were bribed with RM60,000 monthly to allow the illegal immigrants to access the island freely. A group of officers was arrested by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) while 20 other officers were transferred.
Although Hishammudin has said that the transfer of Abdul Rahman was part of a normal reshuffle, it is still believed to be related to his performance.
In fact, it is not the first time for the Immigration to be accused of human trafficking. The 2009 US State Department Trafficking in Human Persons (TIP) Report had pointed out that some Malaysian immigration officers have involved in human trafficking and extorted Burmese refugees.
According to the report, Malaysian immigration officers sold the refugees for about US$200 per person to human trafficking syndicates operating along Thailand's southern border.
"In turn, the traffickers demanded ransom — ranging from US$300 for children to US$575 for adults — in exchange for their freedom. Informed sources estimated that 20% of the victims were unable to pay the ransom, and were sold for the purpose of labor and commercial sexual exploitation."
Therefore, the authorities are considered to have acted slow as the involving officers had gone scot-free for some time. Also, the country has suffered humiliation as the crimes were exposed by a foreign country.
Starting from 2007, Malaysia has been put in the human trafficking blacklist along with Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, Fiji and North Korea. The record is better this year as Malaysia has been upgraded to Tier 2 from Tier 3 in the TIP Report for 2010.
Corruption among officials has allowed trafficking syndicates to exploit, abuse and harm illegal workers. Even worse, forced prostitution takes place everyday in the dark. It is a shame to be blacklisted and it is also a label of not respecting human rights.
To remove the label as soon as possible, in addition to implement severe punishment, the MACC should act fast. Who would be afraid of the MACC if too many major cases are left unsolved? Had the MACC been sleeping all the while when immigration officials were taking bribes over all these years?
It has proven the loose discipline in Malaysia immigration and it will cause endless troubles if no drastic improvement is made. - Sin Chew Daily