Monday, November 8, 2010

Combating Human Trafficking Must Not Be At the Expense of Human Rights

SUARAM welcomes the affirmation of the pledge to combat human trafficking by the Australian and Malaysian governments during the visit of Australian Prime Minister Julia Gilliard.

SUARAM is of the view that human trafficking must be dealt with in a comprehensive manner. However, we would like to remind the Malaysian and Australian governments that human rights must not be sidelined in the efforts to eradicate human trafficking.

SUARAM is concerned that the rights of the trafficked victims, asylum seekers, refugees and stateless persons are not respected in the Malaysian government’s bid to counter human trafficking and smuggling.

Some asylum seekers and refugees are forced to rely on smuggling networks in order to seek safety, because of their inability to access or rely upon legal routes of movement to seek asylum.

Some victims of trafficking are also refugees or stateless persons. However, their status as refugees and/or stateless persons are not always recognised and as such, they are subject to deportation back to their home country after being held in the Malaysian government’s shelters for trafficked persons.

In the past year, increased crackdown on human traffickers has seen the detention of trafficked victims, some of whom are also asylum seekers and refugees. Most of these asylum seekers and refugees are detained en route to Indonesia and Australia.

Unfortunately, many victims of trafficking who were rescued are placed in immigration detention depots. Conditions of the Malaysian immigration detention depots are deplorable and completely unsuitable to house detainees, much less rescued victims of trafficking.

There is also evidence indicating that Immigration Officers are themselves complicit in human trafficking activities. Nine individuals, including seven Immigration Officers, were recently detained for their involvement in human trafficking. Astonishingly, the nine individuals were detained under the Internal Security Act 1960 (ISA) which provides for detention without trial, instead of being charged under the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act 2007[1]. SUARAM has repeatedly called for the abolition of the ISA and for those detained under the Act to be charged in an open court.

Any concerted effort to counter human trafficking and smuggling must not trample over the rights of those involved. As such, SUARAM calls for the following:

To the Malaysian Government:
-          To respect the rights of trafficked victims by providing more safe houses for men, women and children instead of detaining them at detention centres. The cases of victims of trafficking should also be processed in a time efficient manner to prevent prolonging the stay of trafficked victims in safe houses.
-          To provide the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) access to victims of trafficking who may be asylum seekers, refugees and/or stateless persons.
-          To ratify the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol.
-          To release the nine individuals detained under the Internal Security Act 1960 immediately and charge them under the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act 2007 according to due process.

To the Australian Government:
-          To pay due attention to the need to respect human rights of victims of trafficking, asylum seekers, refugees and stateless persons even as it bids Southeast Asian countries to cooperate in tackling human trafficking and smuggling.

Released by,

 Temme Lee
Refugee Coordinator
Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)