Malaysia must aim high in fight against traf­fick­ing

The China Post - - COMMENTARY - BY ZAID IBRAHIM

Ac­cord­ing to the Malaysian Direc­tor of In­ter­nal Se­cu­rity and Public Or­der, there is only one mass grave in the quiet set­tle­ment of Wang Kelian, Perlis, Malaysia although a few more have been un­cov­ered across the Thai bor­der. Still, it came as a shock to Malaysians when that one grave had 139 bod­ies.

We hope he’s right. We hope the po­lice have car­ried out an ex­ten­sive search of the area and made sure that hu­man traf­fick­ers have not dumped more bod­ies of Ro­hingya and Bangladeshi mi­grants else­where.

The vil­lagers in Wang Kelian re­ported see­ing th­ese mi­grants com­ing down from the hills and the sur­round­ing jun­gle ar­eas, look­ing for food and ap­pear­ing so dis­ori­ented that they were not even sure if they were in Malaysia.

Some of them were later picked up by traf­fick­ers and dis­ap­peared. Now we know what their likely fate was.

The rest of us are stunned to find out that in Malaysia, peo­ple can be killed and buried in large num­bers with­out the au­thor­i­ties know­ing about it.

When­ever you fly on Malaysia’s na­tional air­line, one of the an­nounce­ments made on board is that Malaysia takes a se­ri­ous view of hu­man traf­fick­ing and that pun­ish­ments for such of­fenses are se­vere.

It was al­ways sooth­ing to hear such re­minders of our Malaysia’s moral stand, and it has been equally dev­as­tat­ing to Malaysians to re­al­ize how badly they have failed to up­hold it.

The rev­e­la­tions that th­ese traf­fick­ers built vir­tual slave camps in Malaysia, and that hun­dreds of des­per­ate mi­grants who were forced to live there ended up dis­mem­bered in th­ese mass graves, have in­deed been a shock­ing devel­op­ment for Malaysia.

‘A rude awak­en­ing’

But if it has been a rude awak­en­ing for them to re­al­ize what has been go­ing on in our own backyard, what words can be used to de­scribe the sit­u­a­tion of the Ro­hingyas, who have been ren­dered state­less af­ter their own Myan­mar gov­ern­ment de­nied them recog­ni­tion?

There are more than 1.5 mil­lion Ro­hingyas, who are Mus­lims, and they live in per­pet­ual fear of be­ing per­se­cuted or killed by their Bud­dhist coun­try­men.

When ASEAN ac­cepted Myan­mar as a mem­ber state in 1997, some non­govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions sug­gested that the as­so­ci­a­tion im­pose hu­man­i­tar­ian con­di­tions on Myan­mar’s in­clu­sion, in­clud­ing the Myan­mar gov­ern­ment’s deal­ings with their Ro­hingya cit­i­zens.

Un­for­tu­nately, ASEAN did not pay heed to this sug­ges­tion and this has cer­tainly con­trib­uted to the tragedy we see to­day.

Although the United Na­tions rec­og­nized the Ro­hingyas as one of the world’s most per­se­cuted mi­nori­ties, very lit­tle has been done to al­le­vi­ate their suf­fer­ing. Many of them have set­tled in Malaysia since the 1970s, es­pe­cially in Jo­hor and Se­lan­gor, although they came in much smaller num­bers then.

When I was chair of the Myan­mar Cau­cus for ASEAN Par­lia­men­tar­i­ans in 2006, I had the op­por­tu­nity to meet some of their rep­re­sen­ta­tives, who ex­pected me to do some­thing to ad­dress their prob­lems.

Many of them worked in mis­er­able work­ing con­di­tions, but they were still grate­ful for the chance to earn enough of an in­come to feed their fam­ily and even send some money home.

At that time, they wanted the gov­ern­ment to al­low their chil­dren to go to school and to pro­vide some form of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion pa­pers, so they would not be ha­rassed by au­thor­i­ties tak­ing ad­van­tage of their con­di­tion.

Although it would be cor­rect to say that the Ro­hingya prob­lem is not ours alone to solve and that the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity must also play its role, it’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that in this part of the world there are only two large Mus­lim coun­tries: Malaysia and In­done­sia.

If Malaysians and the In­done­sians do not help th­ese peo­ple, who else will?

Malays make much of our de­ter­mi­na­tion to be good Mus­lims, and although an­other per­son’s faith should not shape our de­ci­sion to help them, it does seem par­tic­u­larly in­de­fen­si­ble that we are un­will­ing to help our Mus­lim broth­ers and sis­ters, es­pe­cially when they are in such dire need.

They flee their homes and cross the oceans on rick­ety boats to get here. Many die along the way, re­port­edly un­der hor­rific con­di­tions. Even women and chil­dren are not spared.

Those who even­tu­ally float to our shores are des­per­ate, hun­gry and aban­doned twice over: once by their own gov­ern­ment, and again by the traf­fick­ers who promised to take them to safety.

‘More than eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity’

They are look­ing for more than just eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity: they are look­ing for asy­lum, for safety, for a chance to sur­vive. Booted out of their homes by their own coun­try, they lit­er­ally have nowhere to go.

If their sto­ries do not move us to do some­thing, then noth­ing will. I hope our much- touted Malaysian Syariah In­dex will force us to of­fer rea­son­able as­sis­tance to our fel­low Mus­lims, even if they are Ro­hingyas.

It’s also im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that in its re­cent an­nual Traf­fick­ing in Per­sons Re­port, the United States State Depart­ment is­sued a damn­ing state­ment on the Malaysian gov­ern­ment’s poor ef­forts in fight­ing mod­ern slav­ery.

The re­port noted that there was am­ple ev­i­dence of forced la­bor and sex traf­fick­ing in the coun­try, so it rel­e­gated us to Tier 3, the low­est rank­ing, along­side coun­tries such as North Korea, Zim­babwe and Saudi Ara­bia.

Like it or not, as a trad­ing na­tion Malaysia can­not af­ford to dis­re­gard what the U.S. thinks of us, or the pos­si­bil­ity of the United States Congress im­pos­ing trade re­stric­tions on Malaysia if we do not do enough to ad­dress hu­man traf­fick­ing.

I urge the for­eign and home af­fairs min­istries to act quickly. They should es­tab­lish a Spe­cial Work­ing Group to deal with the in­flux of Ro­hingyas and de­velop so­lu­tions that go be­yond just pro­vid­ing them with in­terim re­lief and shel­ter.

Th­ese so­lu­tions must also in­clude strate­gies to stamp out the hu­man traf­fick­ers that have in­fil­trated Malaysia.

Let’s see some ar­rests and suc­cess­ful pros­e­cu­tions of th­ese crim­i­nals, and out­line the spe­cific ac­tion that’s needed to mon­i­tor our bor­der ar­eas.

The war on drugs could not be won by ar­rest­ing young ad­dicts but by tar­get­ing the sup­pli­ers and syn­di­cate lead­ers. Sim­i­larly, hu­man slav­ery and traf­fick­ing will only be over­come when the syn­di­cate lead­ers are put in jail.

Only when we do this can we once again claim to be se­ri­ous about deal­ing with hu­man traf­fick­ing.

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