Lessons on human trafficking, smuggling

This article by Alang Bendahara on TIP workshop organised by Malaysian Press Institute (MPI) and the United States Embassy held in Johor Bharu recently was published in the New Straits Times, May 20, 2014.

“TO err is human, to forgive is divine” is the famous quote by English poet Alexander Pope (1688-1744).

It would aptly describe what I, along with 34 local and Singaporean participants in the three-day Malaysian Press Institute (MPI) workshop on “Reporting on Trafficking In Persons” in Johor Baru early this month, felt when a speaker pointed out a common mistake by the media on reporting the topic.

It seems that most practitioners got it wrong by bundling “migrant smuggling” with “trafficking in persons” (TIP) as pointed out by Muhd Khair Razman Mohamed Annuar, the secretariat division undersecretary of the Council for Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants (MAPO) International.

TIP has the following characteristics: crime, exploitation and local and international human trafficking that comes under the United Nations (UN) Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons.

Migrant smuggling, meanwhile, is characterised as a crime against the state and consensual immigration violations that are subjected to the UN Protocol Against Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air.

The workshop on Human Trafficking was organised by MPI, the United States embassy in Kuala Lumpur, MAPO and the Home Affairs Ministry.

Malaysia is on Tier 2 of the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report watchlist.

The four Singaporean journalists from MediaCorp’s Today and The Straits Times newspapers agreed that the workshop gave them valuable insight, especially when the republic has yet to enact a dedicated law to address this issue, such as our Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrant (ATIPSOM) Act 2007.

It was also enlightening to hear speakers from the police and Attorney-General’s Chambers, who agreed that the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 and the Prevention of Crime Act (POCA) 2013 were useful tools to combat human trafficking syndicates, especially when the country has a low conviction rate.

One of the speakers, US Embassy political officer Elisabeth Socolow, agreed that her country also has a low conviction rate for TIP cases.

So, it is good to know that Malaysia has the laws to combat this menace, especially now that our country is no longer a transit point, but has turned into a destination.

TIP is an issue very close to my heart.

In 2012, a colleague and I had the opportunity to interview a few traffickers detained under the repealed Internal Security Act (ISA) at the Kamunting detention centre.

We were amazed to hear how adamant some of these top henchmen were on returning to their old trade, with some still capable of running their syndicates behind bars.

I learned that TIP is a lucrative crime that has even attracted Sri Lankan syndicates to use our country as a transit point to Australia and, to some extent, Canada and New Zealand.

It was good to hear other speakers telling us that Malaysia has taken steps to address the issues raised in the US TIP report, such as amending laws that restrict the opening and running of shelter homes by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and also to allow more freedom for TIP victims to work while under protection.

Local NGOs and government departments and agencies could also get some tips on how the popular cable music video channel MTV, through its MTV EXIT programme, conducts its campaign to combat human trafficking and exploitation through a mix of live events, innovative video content and youth engagement activities.

After all, the media, the people and the government should work together to combat human trafficking.

Out of the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nation members, seven are labour exporting countries while three are importing countries, hence the need for us to be good and caring neighbours by not exploiting each other.