Both Malaysia and Thailand, the major destination countries for Cambodian migrant workers, narrowly escaped being downgraded in the US’s annual Trafficking in Persons report, released yesterday, despite being found to have made no increased efforts to address the problem.
The report from the US State Department found that both countries would have been placed at the bottom of the TIP index, Tier 3, had they not been granted a waiver because they had submitted plans to meet minimum standards to eliminate human trafficking.
But no specific outlines of these plans were given and inquiries for more details from relevant embassies were not responded to yesterday.
Endemic police corruption, including the “the direct involvement in and facilitation of human trafficking by law enforcement officials” was one of a litany of criticisms levelled against the Thai government, which remained on the Tier 2 Watch List.
“The government has not shown evidence of increasing efforts to address human trafficking compared to the previous year; therefore, Thailand is placed on Tier 2 Watch List for a third consecutive year,” the report states.
Despite conducting 1,000 inspections and searches of fishing boats – for which Cambodian and other migrant men have become a notorious source of slave labour – the Royal Thai Navy did not identify a single case of suspected trafficking
Citing findings from the United Nations Inter Agency Project on Human Trafficking, the report states that 23,000 Cambodian trafficking victims are deported from Thailand every year, and separately concluded that 100 victims had been repatriated from fishing boats.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said that the “game” of which tier a country landed in was largely immaterial to the fundamental problem of the entrenched corruption in Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia that enabled trafficking.
“The real situation that is most worrisome is that you have these tie-ups between Cambodia and Thailand and Cambodia and Malaysia that ensure that the people who go through these recruitment centres do so with insurmountable debts.
“The central point is, I don’t see any systematic changes happening in the core factors that allow trafficking to continue.”
Malaysia, long favoured by Cambodian recruitment firms as a destination country for domestic workers until a temporary ban on sending them there was put in place by the government last year, was found to prosecute sex traffickers but often failed to acknowledge victims of labour trafficking.
“NGOs reported that police and Labor Department officials often failed to investigate complaints of confiscation of passports and travel documents or withholding of wages – especially involving domestic workers – as possible trafficking offences,” the report found.
Raja Saifful Ridzuwan, deputy chief of mission at the Malaysian embassy, said he would not be able to comment until tomorrow as he had yet to read the report.
But Muhammad Sha’Ani Bin Abdullah, commissioner at the independent Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, said the waiver was an opportunity for Malaysian officials and police to mend their ways.
“Police are not adequately equipped with the knowledge to handle trafficking victims. Often, they treat trafficking victims as criminals,” he said.
Cambodia, which remained at Tier 2, is making significant efforts to comply with minimum standards to eliminate human trafficking, according to the TIP report, but these are undermined by “endemic corruption at all levels.”
In particular, the pardoning of three pedophiles, among them notorious Russian sex offender Alexander Trofimov, had “undermined the credibility of Cambodian efforts to combat child sex tourism”.
Officials from the Cambodian Ministry of Interior and Department of Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection could not be reached for comment yesterday.
To contact the reporter on this story: David Boyle at [email protected]