Human Traffickers Get Free Rein with Burmese in Malaysia

June 19, 2008

Human Traffickers Get Free Rein with Burmese in Malaysia

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Human Traffickers Get Free Rein with Burmese in Malaysia

February 8, 2008

BALING, Malaysia—Burmese migrant workers in Malaysia live at the mercy of international human-trafficking gangs who sell them back and forth as slave labor with the full knowledge of Malaysian and Thai immigration officials, RFA’s Burmese service reports.

Thousands and perhaps hundreds of thousands of Burmese find themselves stuck in a human rights no-man´s-land after losing their legal status, often because employers withhold passports or refuse to pay their return airfares.

“To tell the truth, we Burmese aren´t even as valuable as dogs in this country,” Burmese laborer Ko Chit Aye said. “Most of the time, Burmese people work in construction and on farms, but most employers cheat them. Most of them ask people to work without paying them money. Many of them don´t pay.”

In the murky world inhabited by thousands of Burmese in relatively prosperous Malaysia, there is scant protection for human rights as Malaysia doesn´t recognize key international agreements on the protection of refugees and foreign nationals. Nor does it apply to foreign migrants the same rights protections offered to Malaysian citizens.

Several secret jails or deportation camps exist around the country to hold foreign nationals found without papers. From there, officials take them to the Thai border, where trafficking gangs have close ties to Malaysian officials and have been tipped off to their arrival.

“Almost all agents, one way or the other, are politically connected,” said Malaysian legislator Kula Segaram, who is campaigning to boost legal protection of foreign migrant workers´ rights.

‘It’s big business’

“They are all in the human-trafficking business. It´s big business. Big money,” said Segaram, who confirmed reports throughout Malaysia from stranded and trafficked Burmese migrants who say they are hounded either by immigration militia or by human-trafficking gangs with connections at every level of Malaysian society.

“It´s because these agents and brokers are connected to the authorities in one way or another. They are all involved in the human-trafficking business. This is a very big business that is bringing in a lot of money. I´m talking about U.S. $500 per person. In Malaysia, there are 2 million illegal foreign workers. You can just calculate the income,” Segaram said.

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