Friday, June 27, 2014

Putrajaya Should Work Closer with NGOs in Combatting Human Trafficking

Last Friday, the U.S State Department downgraded Malaysia, together with Thailand and Venezuela to the lowest “Tier 3” status in its Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Reports, as the world’s worst centers of human trafficking. This came after the State Department found that the Malaysian government has shown no significant effort to comply with the minimum standards for elimination of trafficking.
Such a downgrade is a shame to us as we are dumped into the same category with some of the world’s most lawless, dysfunctional and repressive regimes such as Iran, Syria, Zimbabwe and North Korea. The downgrade may also open up the country to possible U.S sanctions.

On Monday, The Foreign Affairs Ministry has issued a statement to urge the U.S State Department to reconsider its assessment, arguing that the information used to prepare the report was flawed, inaccurate and did not reflect the steps taken by Malaysian trafficking to combat human-trafficking.
In its statement, The Foreign Affairs Ministry has listed down some of the efforts done by the Malaysian government in combatting human-trafficking, including a new policy, which came into effect on March 1, 2014, allowing the victims of labour trafficking to work and reside in Malaysia; the launching of the standard operating procedure (SOP) for enforcement agencies in November 2013; and a new pilot project finalized in March 2014 to establish a shelter home with NGO for the victims of human-trafficking.
Nevertheless, we believe that such efforts are too little, too late.  We would like to remind Putrajaya that Malaysia had been on Tier 2 “watchlist” for 4 years and were given waivers for 2 consecutive years before the downgrade!  
Therefore, moving forward, instead of denying the report, the government must heed on the comments and recommendations in the TIP report. One of the plausible efforts that we would like to highlight to the government is on its cooperation with the NGO, responding from this section of the TIP report:
“NGOs—with no financial support from the government—provided the majority of victim rehabilitation and counseling services. At times, the government granted NGOs access to victims in government facilities; however, it prevented some victim assistance organizations from accessing shelters to provide services.”
At such, we hope that the government can increase the funding to anti human-trafficking NGOs who have proven track records. In addition, the government should also leverage on the expertise and experiences of the NGOs in government facilities. Instead of relying fully on its own personnel in its facilities, the government should consider work more closely with the NGOs who already have experiences in these works. 
All in all, we hope that the government will put greater urgency in anti human trafficking efforts.  The government must have a systematic and strategic plan with clear timeline to improve our status to at least “Tier 2” in next year U.S State Department TIP report. This can serve as a key performance indicator to measure the country’s effectiveness in anti human trafficking.

Lastly, we would like to stress the most important aspect of combatting human trafficking is not about the rating in the TIP report, it is about human’s life and dignity. The victims of human trafficking may come from foreign lands but they shall not be mistreated and robed of basic needs and dignity on our land.

Malaysia must stand up and be a responsible member of the international community.

Yeo Bee Yin