Malaysia has only itself to blame for being relegated to the lowest rank in the US’s annual human trafficking report, as it even failed to respond to assistance from international communities on the persistent problem, said Human Rights Watch (HRW) today.

The deputy Asia director of the New York-based watchdog, Phil Robertson, said that the US, UK and Australia and even UN representations had sent over experts to engage with various Malaysian ministries to tackle human trafficking, providing technical assistance and improvement plans.

“It is entirely appropriate what the US department has done against Malaysia. There is no lack of effort from the international community, but frankly Malaysia simply ignored it.

“It was the sound of one hand clapping. There was no substantive or continuous response to deal with it,” Robertson told Astro AWANI.

While Malaysia had taken up the trappings of combating migrant exploitation via human trafficking with committees, billboards, and brochures; it failed in its implementation, he said.

Citing an example in Malaysia’s Anti Trafficking in Persons Act 2007(ATIP), Robertson said that the merging of smuggling offences and trafficking offences has created a situation where the authorities were more likely to treat trafficked victims as undocumented workers and penalise them as such.

There were also weaknesses in providing adequate shelter and protection for human trafficking victims, with the current system more likely to lock up the victims, said Robertson, agreeing with critics who call Malaysia ‘hotel California’, where “you can check in but you can never leave.”

Robertson called on the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak himself to commit to the cause and begin to take immediate action, for example by removing regulation of migrant workers out of the hands of the Home Minister and into the Human Resources Ministry.

“It has been shown in many different cases, that the Home Ministry system is rife with corruption as there have been instances of corruption, and these are instances of abuse from employers, and a failure to regulate brokers,” he said.

'Lowest ranked'

On Friday, the US downgraded Malaysia to the lowest ranking in its US state department's Trafficking in Persons (TiP) report, a move which could result in economic sanctions and loss of development aid for the country.

The US department had noted that there was ample evidence of forced labour and sex trafficking in Malaysia, which was a “destination and, to a lesser extent, a source and transit country for men, women and children subjected to sex trafficking.”

Under Tier 1, are countries whose governments fully comply with the TVPA minimum standards. Most of the developed countries fall under this tier.

Tier 2 are countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards. Most Asean countries such as Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam fall under this category.

Countries in Tier 3 are those whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.

Malaysia was automatically downgraded to Tier 3 after four consecutive years of barely holding on to the Tier 2 category.

When contacted, Deputy Home Minister Datuk Wan Junaidi Wan Jaafar said that the government would be soon responding to the US government report.

"A Home Ministry official in charge of this matter would be issuing a statement soon and I do not want my comments to contradict his," Wan Junaidi told Astro AWANI.