Fighting human trafficking in Malaysia
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The plight of Rohingya refugees has captured the attention of Asia and the world.  The Rohingya – Muslim people from a region of Myanmar who are deemed illegal immigrants by their government – are being forced from their country by lack of opportunity and abuse. Photos of begging Rohingya children illustrate the crisis for the world, and the quest for employment by their parents is a critical human rights challenge for Southeast Asia. 

Malaysia is the largest destination for the Rohingya people because of the stability, opportunity and protection provided by my country. Unfortunately, human traffickers are taking advantage of this population.  Rohingya leader Mohd Jaber Mohd Subahan said that most of the Rohingya who come to Malaysia hope to be able to return home one day. “We are appreciative of the countries that take us in, but the ultimate dream is to be able to go back to Myanmar and be recognised as citizens with basic rights,” he said.


In January, Prime Minister Najib Razak hosted a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to discuss the plight of the Rohingya. This meeting was another Malaysia initiative to combat the terrible abuse of the Rohingya people and the scourge of human trafficking, which touches our neighbors’ borders and our own.

Not unlike the Rohingya people, others in our region are fleeing the economic and political insecurity of their home countries, and seeking refuge in Malaysia. Malaysia’s challenge is to effectively target and prevent those trying to illegally traffic persons into Malaysia, and prosecute their traffickers to the fullest extent of our laws. And for the people who are illegally brought to Malaysia, our country has strengthened our programs to protect them.

In 2016, there were a total of 79 convictions for human trafficking crimes in Malaysia, compared to seven convictions in 2015, and 403 cases of human trafficking were prosecuted in court in 2016, as my government briefed the U.S. Ambassador to Malaysia, Kamala Shirin Lakhdhir, in January.

The Royal Malaysian Police have reinvigorated our stand against human trafficking.  In 2016, our police identified 1,812 people who were potential trafficking victims and submitted 308 of those for prosecution.  There were 42 government officials arrested, reprimanded or facing disciplinary action for involvement in human trafficking activities; 41 immigration officers and one police officer. 

Under the leadership of Prime Minister Najib Razak, 11 Malaysian government ministries are involved in fighting human trafficking. I am proud of my country’s successes in protecting this vulnerable population through actions against Malaysian employers.  Last year, our Department of Labor conducted almost 24,000 inspections related to trafficked persons, leading to 3,994 recorded violations of human trafficking laws.  Of those, 19,463 were referred to Labor Court, and there was $4.5 million in employer paybacks for illegal labor activities.

This year’s successes in fighting human trafficking include new programs to protect victims. Malaysia has invested $1.1 million in new shelters for trafficked persons. These activities are being undertaken with international organizations and bilateral institutions, to augment the resources our country has on hand to fight human trafficking.

Malaysia is fighting human trafficking with programs to identify and prevent trafficking, prosecute those responsible, and by protecting those who are brought to our country under duress.  With the assistance of the international community, our domestic initiatives are paying off for the men, women and children suffering at the hands of human traffickers.

Khalid Abu Bakar is the Malaysian Inspector General of Police and who was in Washington, D.C. this week to discuss ways the U.S. and Malaysia can cooperate to fight terrorism and human trafficking.

The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.