GENEVA / KUALA LUMPUR (2 March 2015) – United Nations human rights expert Maria Grazia Giammarinaro urged* the Malaysian Government to improve the prevention of trafficking in persons and the protection of human rights of its victims at the end of her first official visit to the country. There is an estimated two million documented and two million or more undocumented migrant workers in Malaysia.
“Institutional and legal framework to prevent and combat trafficking is in place in Malaysia,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children. “The challenge is now to make the whole mechanism more effective and able to deal with the ever changing features of trafficking, especially concerning its labour dimension, and its connection with migration policies.”
The human rights expert noted that the criminalisation of irregular migrants and the non-recognition of the status of asylum seekers and refugees “contribute to increasing the social vulnerability of migrants, who can fall easy prey to traffickers, and are discouraged from reporting exploitation in order to escape from prosecution and deportation.”
“I urge the Malaysian authorities to address more effectively all forms of trafficking, and prioritize trafficking for forced labour and labour exploitation,” Ms. Giammarinaro said, calling for the adoption of a new protection system that provides exploited workers, especially migrant workers, immediate assistance to claim compensation, and grants temporary residence status and a work permit.
During her six-day visit, the expert was informed of cases involving primarily semi-skilled, low skilled male migrant workers from the Pacific and the South-west Asia regions.
The vulnerable situation of semi-skilled and low skilled migrant workers is often exploited for labor trafficking by unscrupulous recruitment agents -in source countries and Malaysia- and employers most commonly through breach of contract, payment of excessive recruitment fees, debt bondage, non-payment of salary, withholding of passports, excessive working hours, lack of rest days and physical and/or sexual abuse.