THERE have been a number of times in the past where Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has lamented the lack of acknowledgement of Malaysia’s efforts in the fight against human trafficking and smuggling of migrants.
He questioned how was it that Kuala Lumpur, an accommodating state, was ranked as Tier 2 Watch List, but the source countries from which the foreigners came from were a notch higher, at Tier 2.
Ironic? Yes, and perhaps Malaysia was unfairly assessed by a third party. The lack of recognition is a grave concern; Malaysia’s rank in the United States Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report is paramount, as it is related to the bilateral affairs between the two countries, especially in the Kuala Lumpur-Washington Visa Waiver Programme (VWP), among others.
Efforts to resolve the problem are not mere window dressing for the Home Ministry, far from it. Over the last 12 months, Malaysia adopted a fresh perspective in addressing the problem and has had several breakthroughs, some unprecedented.
For one, amendments are made to the Anti-trafficking in Persons and Anti-smuggling of Migrants Act (Atipsom) in 2010, leading to the setting up of the Atipsom task force in 2015. It also set the momentum for the establishment of The National Action Plan on Human Trafficking 2016-2020 (NAP), launched by Zahid in mid 2016.
The task force comprised personnel from the police, Immigration Department, Royal Customs Department, Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency, the Human Resources Ministry’s Labour Department, Attorney-General’s Chambers and National Security Council. Its main objective is to eradicate trafficking of persons and smuggling of migrants, but it has also zoomed in on high-profile related cases and combat crimes nationwide.
It has an integrated approach in its modus operandi, which is in line with The National Blue Ocean Strategy (NBOS). The results have been favourable as was seen in the number of cases brought to court.
All these initiatives and actions are the manifestation of the government’s commitment in the ongoing war against human trafficking.
There is even a film, titled Sindiket by a non-governmental organisation (NGO), which saw the abduction of young girls along the Malaysia-Indonesia border. The film captured in essence the cross-border crimes perpetrated by individuals from both countries.
“Let there be no ambiguity in our efforts, we are dead serious in this war against human trafficking,” Zahid had said.
At a meeting in November, it was decided that the operations by Atipsom’s multi-agency task force be extended until the end of December. Recently, Zahid announced the setting up of a special court for human trafficking and smuggling of migrant cases.
Twelve office-bearers from NGOs, such as Good Shepherd Services Malaysia, Tenaganita, Yayasan Khaza’a, Suka Society, and P.S. The Children, have been appointed to protect and care for the victims’ wellbeing, alongside enforcement officers of the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry.
The Home Ministry has allocated a fund for the management of shelters for the victims. Between January and December, 1,097 victims were sheltered at centres in Kuala Lumpur, Johor, Negri Sembilan, Melaka, and Sabah. However, the centres are almost full; at one point, the shelter in Kuala Lumpur had 954 victims. The victims are categorised as being under either an interim protection order (IPO), protection order (PO) or temporary placement (TP).
The government has held publicity campaigns to communicate its achievements, with about 1,450 public service announcements in the form of made-for-television capsules and other items, and 6,875 similar items over the radio.
Looking at the big picture, it is now a complete spectrum as far as Malaysia is concerned in its war against human trafficking and smuggling of migrants.
The public, too, can play their part by reporting human trafficking cases to 03-8000 8000, a hotline number that was launched last year by Home Ministry secretary-general Datuk Seri Alwi Ibrahim on the World Day against Trafficking in Persons.
With all these, the prospect of elevation to Tier 1 in 2020, as per Malaysia’s aspiration, would not be a surprise. It will finally be a complete recognition of the country’s efforts over the years.
*Part 1 was published yesterday, read it here
Zukri Valentino is a former journalist and press secretary. He is also head of corporate communications, Home Ministry