Media Statement (2) by Lim Kit Siang in Petaling Jaya on Friday, 24th April 2009:
Call for instant government action on the Lugar Report on the complicity of Malaysian officials in the human trafficking of Burmese refugees for prostitution and forced labour
The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak should respond with instant government action in keeping with his “Performance Now” motto on the Lugar Report which accused Malaysian officials of complicity in the human trafficking of Burmese refugees who have been sold into prostitution and other kinds of forced labour in recent years.
It has been reported in the international press, including the Financial Times and IPS, that Richard Lugar, the top Republican on the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has handed to the Malaysian government a report "Trafficking and Extortion of Burmese Migrants in Malaysia and Southern Thailand".
The report is based on first person accounts of extortion and trafficking in Malaysia and along the Malaysia-Thailand border. Committee information comes from experiences of Burmese refugees resettled in the United States and other countries.
The report highlights the plight of Burmese migrants who crossed Thailand into Malaysia in the hope of registering with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and then being resettled in a third country.
According to the investigation, Malaysian officials have transported migrants – including some who had registered with UNHCR – from detention centres to the Thai border for deportation. At the border, however, migrants are handed to traffickers unless they can pay a ransom.
“Migrants state that those unable to pay are turned over to human peddlers in Thailand, representing a variety of business interests ranging from fishing boats to brothels,” said the report.
The Senate investigators also received multiple reports of Burmese women being sexually abused by traffickers, including some in front of their husbands because, as one NGO employee cited in the report put it, “no one dares to intervene as they would be shot or stabbed to death in the jungle’’.
“[Burmese women] are sold at a brothel if they look good,” recounted one refugee. “If they are not beautiful, they [the traffickers] might sell them at a restaurant or house-keeping job.”
The committee launched the investigation in 2007 after hearing allegations about the trafficking of Burmese migrants “with the knowledge, if not participation” of Malaysian officials.
“The prospect that Burmese migrants, having fled the heavy hand of the Burmese junta, only to find themselves in harms’ way in Malaysia seemed beyond belief,” said the report.
While raising concerns about the role of “government officials” – which the report defines as immigration and police officials, and the semi-official People’s Volunteer Corps [Rela] - Lugar welcomed the Malaysian police’s recent decision to investigate the allegations.
The report estimated that a few thousand Burmese have been brought to the border with Thailand in recent years, and in particular to the Sungai Golok in Thailand and Padang Besar in Malaysia.
It said Burmese refugees now residing in the US had provided names and bank account details for people involved in the trafficking, which have now been forwarded to Malaysian law enforcement officials.
The Malaysian Parliamentary Caucus on Myanmar will convene a meeting on the Lugar Report and will seek a meeting with the Prime Minister and the new Foreign Minister, Datuk Anifah Aman as the Lugar Report is not only most damaging to Malaysia’s international image but raises grave questions about Malaysia’s human rights commitment in ASEAN.
*Lim Kit Siang, DAP Parliamentary leader & MP for Ipoh Timor