Are duped Bangladeshis victims of exploitation or human trafficking?

A total of 171 Bangla-deshi migrants marching to a police station to make a report about them being duped by their "recruitment agency" in Johor on Dec 20 were instead arrested.

Many have raised questions about law enforcement procedures and human rights.

Minister in the Prime Ministers' Department (Law And Institutional Reform) Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said says there should be a probe into the recruitment agents who had allegedly duped the Bangladeshis into coming to Malaysia for non-existent jobs.

The arrest is a wrongful exercise of police powers and in breach of anti-trafficking laws, says Lawyers for Liberty (LFL).

LFL director Zaid Malek said as the migrants had been duped and were stranded in Malaysia and subsequently overstayed, they were victims of human trafficking.

Azalina, the Pengerang member of parliament, also addressed the plight of 2,500 duped migrant workers in her constituency as being the "tip of the iceberg".

She said there should be no tolerance to human rights violations, including in the business sector.

Thus, it is important that several questions be addressed:

TO what extent are foreign
recruitment agencies involved in fraudulent practices in Malay-sia?;

HOW effective is the role of the Immigration Department and Human Resources Ministry in monitoring foreign workers brought in by recruitment agencies?;

TO what extent were police procedure, power and authority applied in the arrest and detention of the 171 workers?; and,

SHOULD anti-human trafficking laws be used against unscrupulous foreign recruitment agencies?

It is distressing when agencies mislead and exploit immigrants, charging them excessive fees and failing to fulfil the promised job placements.

However, it is important to note the distinction between exploitative practices and the crime of human trafficking.

Human trafficking involves the use of force, coercion or deception to exploit individuals, typically for forced labour, sexual
exploitation or other forms of modern-day slavery.

While the practices described are exploitative and unethical, they may not necessarily fall under the legal definition of human trafficking.

Nevertheless, it is crucial for the government to address these issues and hold recruitment agencies accountable for their actions.

Strict regulations, monitoring and oversight mechanisms should be implemented to ensure that agencies fulfil their obligations to job seekers without engaging in deceitful or exploitative practices.

Victims of such misconduct should have avenues for seeking justice and support.

To combat these problems, it is important for governments, non-governmental organisations and international bodies to work together to improve the regulation and supervision of recruitment agencies, protect immigrant workers, and encourage ethical recruitment practices.

By doing so, the rights and well-being of migrants can be better safeguarded, and the exploitative behaviours mentioned can be minimised.

Yes, it is possible to use the 2007 Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants Act against unscrupulous foreign worker recruitment agencies if their actions meet the criteria of human trafficking.

Human trafficking refers to the process of recruiting, transporting, transferring, harbouring or receiving persons through the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of exploitation.

If the recruitment agencies charged exorbitant fees to foreign workers and failed to provide them with jobs, this could be considered as a form of fraud or coercion.

If the workers were promised decent jobs in Malaysia and were instead subjected to exploitative conditions, such as forced labour, this could also be considered as a form of human trafficking.

Victims of human trafficking can seek redress under the act, which provides for the protection, rehabilitation and compensation of trafficking victims.

The act also provides for penalties and imprisonment for traffickers.

However, it is important to note that before using the act, the authorities should first investigate and establish the existence of human trafficking.

The Madani government has prioritised human rights issues.

Many people are questioning if the 171 workers were further victimised due to weaknesses in the law system and other government machinery. The prime minister and his cabinet must address this matter quickly.

* The writer is a criminologist at the Centre for Policy Research, Universiti Sains Malaysia

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