PETALING JAYA: The United States downgraded Malaysia to the lowest ranking in its annual human trafficking report, to the same category as Zimbabwe, North Korea and Saudi Arabia.
Malaysia's relegation to tier 3 in the State Department's Trafficking in Persons (TiP) report – published on Friday – indicates that the country has categorically failed to comply with the most basic international requirements to prevent trafficking and protect victims within its borders, the report said.
According to the report – which ranks 188 nations according to their willingness and efforts to combat trafficking, and is considered the benchmark index for global anti-trafficking commitments – trafficking victims are thought to comprise the vast majority of Malaysia's estimated two million illegal migrant labourers.
Many of the victims are migrants who have willingly come to Malaysia from neighbouring countries like Indonesia, Burma, Cambodia and Bangladesh, attracted by Malaysia's large supply of jobs and high regional wages, it said.
The report said once in Malaysia they fall prey to forced labour at the hands of their employers, recruitment companies or organised crime syndicates, who refuse payment, withhold their documents or force them into indentured servitude.
It said while Malaysia has increased its preventative efforts against trafficking via public service announcements, there were fewer identifications of trafficking victims, fewer prosecutions and fewer convictions this year than in 2012.
Authorities not only failed to investigate cases brought to them by NGOs, they also failed to recognise victims or indications of trafficking, and instead treated cases as immigration violations, it said.
Some immigration officials were also accused of being involved in the smuggling of trafficking victims, yet the government did not investigate any such potential individuals or cases, it added.
Malaysia's downgrade to tier 3 is an automatic relegation after four years on the tier 2 watchlist and it is the third time in seven years that the country has sunk to the lowest ranking.