30 November 2020
Recent media reports on Ops Selat (a sting operation carried out by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) in collaboration with the Immigration Department) and the 2020 Trafficking In Persons (TIP) Report on Malaysia by the US State Department (available online) leads me to conclude that our Immigration officers – responsible for keeping our borders safe – are complicit in the global crime of human trafficking and migrant smuggling.
The media reports stated that MACC had busted a criminal syndicate involved in human trafficking and migrant smuggling with the arrest of 46 suspects, including 27 Immigration Department officers. They were arrested in several locations including Putrajaya, Selangor, Johor, Sabah and Sarawak.
The syndicate had been operating at our nation’s exit and entry points – KLIA, klia2, and the Sultan Ismail Customs, Immigration, and Quarantine (CIQ) complex building in Johor Baru. Informed sources told the media that the syndicate had two modus operandi:
First, syndicate agents would assist foreign workers who entered the country on social visas (but were working illegally in bars and massage centres) by collecting their passports and have them stamped (by immigration offices) to indicate that they had left the country after three months and had then re-entered legally.
Second, the syndicate members would arrange a “special counter” (manned by Immigration officers working in collusion with the syndiate) for migrants who had been blacklisted for immigration offences. They would be processed at these counters and be allowed entry.
By November 21, the number of suspects arrested had increased to 53 people, including 33 Immigration officers. According to a media report yesterday (29 November), the total number of suspects nabbed under Ops Selat is 65 people – comprising 39 Immigration officers, 17 agents and 9 members of the public.
n July 2020, two Immigration officers, including an assistant director, were among five people charged in court with multiple counts of migrant smuggling. They were accused of smuggling in eight Indonesian migrants at the Pasir Gudang ferry terminal on June 15, 2020. The charges were under section 26A of Act 670.
In January 2017, the then Immigration Department director-general Datuk Seri Mustafar Ali told the media that a passport fee scam that cost the department more than RM1 million in Selangor alone was only small part of much larger corruption in the agency.
Human trafficking is a modern slavery, affecting over 40 million men, women, and children trapped in a web of forced labor, sexual exploitation, and coerced marriage, now the second most lucrative crime in the world, generating more than US$150 billion a year. About 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year. Malaysia is not only a country of destination, but also a country of origin and a transit country.
According to the 2020 Trafficking In Persons (TIP) Report for Malaysia, issued by the US State Department: “The Government of Malaysia does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking” although it is making “significant efforts to do so”. The government also “did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts” compared to the previous year (2019).
The TIP Report in its final paragraph, concludes: “Corrupt immigration officials facilitate trafficking by accepting bribes from brokers and smugglers at border crossings, including at airports. Some government officials profit from bribes and direct involvement in extortion from and exploitation of migrants.
Malaysia is now placed at Tier Two, The Watch List, for the third consecutive year – a position we cannot be proud of. If the situation does not improve soon, Malaysia may drop to the lowest ranking (Tier 3), with Afghanistan, Algeria, Burma, Burundi, China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Syria, Venezuela.
It leaves me wondering whether our Anti-Trafficking In Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants Act 2007 (Act 670) has any bite at all. Under section 12 of the Act, the offence of trafficking in persons is punishable with the prison term of 15 years. If the offence is committed by means of threat, abduction, fraud, deception or abuse of power, the penalty is 20 years imprisonment.
The irony is that Malaysia was aiming to reach the top spot (Tier 1) by 2020. Taking into account the arrests, it was perhaps mere wishful thinking.
– By Salleh Buang – November 30, 2020 @ 3:23pm
The writer, a former federal counsel at the Attorney-General’s Chambers, is deputy chairman of the Kuala Lumpur Foundation to Criminalise War.