Foreign sex workers detained during a raid in Kuala Lumpur. FILE PIC

KUALA LUMPUR: On a par with the “super drug traffickers” threat, human trafficking is giving Southeast Asian countries a big headache with the recent death of 39 Vietnamese nationals while trying to enter Britain being the latest case in point.

The Asean Post quoted the United States Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report 2019 as stating that in the case of Vietnam, traffickers typically subjected their victims to forced labour in construction, fishing, agriculture, mining, logging and manufacturing sectors.

They are primarily trafficked to Angola, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, the Republic of Korea, Taiwan and the United Arab Emirates.

Taking into account the wider Asian region, the Asia Pacific is in fact facing the biggest problem when it comes to human trafficking.

According to the 2016 Global Slavery Index by the Walk Free Foundation, it is estimated that 25 million people are trapped in modern slavery in the region, accounting for 62 per cent of the global total.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen urged Asean to cooperate with China to tackle the human trafficking issue, according to a report from The Khmer Times.

“Human trafficking, exploitation of labour, sex trafficking, child labour and organ trafficking are serious crimes. It is necessary for Asean and China to pay attention and work together to prevent them,” he said.

However, there are increasing reports in the United Kingdom and Ireland of Vietnamese labour trafficking victims, where some of them work in cannabis farms.

Figures supplied by the National Referral Mechanism revealed that more than 3,100 Vietnamese adults and children were identified as victims of trafficking.

Except for the Philippines, the rest of Asean members did not get a positive report in the US Department of State assessment last year.

“Countries such as Brunei and Cambodia dropped from Tier Two to Tier Two ‘watchlist’, while most countries maintained their previous placings, largely located within Tier Two. The Philippines is the only Asean country that managed to continue being placed in Tier One, while Myanmar performed the poorest and is placed in Tier Three,” said the portal.

Tier Three meant the countries listed did not fully comply with efforts to combat human trafficking and were seen as not being serious in tackling it. The countries include Laos and Vietnam.

Brunei, Malaysia and Cambodia are in Tier 2 “watchlist” and trying seriously to comply with international regulations on human trafficking, while Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand are in Tier 2, which are deemed more successful in complying with the rules.

Realising the importance of addressing the issue, Singapore recently warned that it would   take “strong” action against labour trafficking after an Indian couple were found guilty of exploiting migrant women, the first such conviction in the affluent city-state.

The Indian nationals were convicted for exploiting three Bangla-deshi women they had recruited to dance at nightclubs they ran in Singapore, a first under the country’s anti-trafficking law that came into force in 2015.

The couple had subjected the women to oppressive conditions, including verbal abuse, controlling their movements and confiscating their passports, court documents showed.

The International Monetary Fund portal said from 2012 to 2014, more than 60 per cent of the 7,800 identified victims were trafficked for sexual exploitation.

The Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2016, published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC), said China, Japan, Malaysia and Thailand were human traffickers’
destinations from neighbouring countries.

In Southeast Asia, Thailand is the main destination for trafficking victims from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, according to the Walk Free Foundation’s Global Slavery Index 2016. Malaysia has been a destination for victims from Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam. Fifty-one per cent of victims in East Asia were women, with children comprising nearly a third, according to the UNODC report.