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'Malaysia has done a good job in protecting human trafficking victims'

'Malaysia has done a good job in protecting human trafficking victims'
Filepic of an operation to round up migrants.
KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has been making positive progress in terms of dealing with human trafficking problems, despite recently being downgraded to the lowest rank by the US in its annual US state department's 2014 Trafficking in Persons (TiP) report.

This was according to Andika Wahab, an activist and PHD student in National University of Malaysia (UKM) specialising in human smuggling and trafficking issues, who cited an example in the government providing shelters for the victims.
“Malaysia has actually done a good job protecting the victims, our shelters are good. We have shelters provided by the ministry. We segregate the victims by male and female," Andika told Astro AWANI.

However, he said a big issue with shelters was that victims are not being identified by the authorities enough, and also the issue of security.
"We have problems getting victims identified, so there are more shelters than victims. If we cannot identify victims, what is the point having shelters?" asked Andika, who has worked on migrant issues for more than five years.

Andika said among the main indicators used by the TiP report was the number of prosecutions against traffickers, saying that it does not necessarily reflect the actual situation on the micro level.

"What is important is that Malaysia is having good process, it was downgraded is because of these numbers as indicators. I feel that it is too much of a quantitative approach, rather than a qualitative approach. We are not looking at the narrative experiences," he said.

However, Andika admitted that Malaysia's prosecution has been "very weak" and that it has not been able to "bring justice to the victims".

He attributed the problem to two factors: getting evidence from the victims themselves, and the lack of understanding of the problem from prosecutors themselves.

"For example, you have a victim of sexual exploitation and you want to save her and prosecute her agent. If you put her in the shelter, there are times where they run away. If you want her to give her statement in court, she might not want to talk. This is because there is so much fear of the agent, who may have threaten her or her family," he said.

Therefore, he said, it was important to increase training for prosecutors, the police, immigration, and customs.

Andika said the nature of the human trafficking crime itself is very complex, especially with international syndicates that have "very advanced in technology and good network".

"They can scan and produce passports very easily and quickly. They have a good network, legal teams, civilians who help them," he said.

"At the end of the day, human trafficking won’t be solved by just swallowing a pill one night and waking up the next day getting better. It is a long process,” he said.

On Friday, the US downgraded Malaysia to the lowest ranking of Tier 3 in its assessment of a country's performance in dealing with human trafficking.

By being in Tier 3, Malaysia could be subject to economic sanctions and loss of development aid for the country.

The US department had noted that there was ample evidence of forced labour and sex trafficking in Malaysia.

Countries in Tier 3 are those whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.

Meanwhile, an activist had said that the US' low ranking of Malaysia was 'too kind'.