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Malaysia (Tier 3)

The Government of Malaysia does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so, even considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Malaysia remained on Tier 3. Despite the lack of significant efforts, the government took some steps to address trafficking. The government amended its anti-trafficking law and Employment Act to include a more expansive definition of forced labor; convicted more traffickers than the previous reporting period; issued more freedom of movement passes for identified victims in government-funded shelters; increased the number of interpreters and victim assistance specialists (VAS) to assist victims through the judicial process; and adopted a five-year national action plan (NAP) against forced labor. However, the government continued to conflate human trafficking and migrant smuggling crimes, which impeded law enforcement and victim identification efforts. Anti-trafficking investigations declined, and the government did not prosecute or convict government officials allegedly complicit in trafficking crimes. As in previous years, the government did not adequately address or criminally pursue credible allegations from multiple sources alleging labor trafficking in the rubber manufacturing industry and palm oil sector, with the government owning 33 percent of the third-largest palm oil company in the world. Its failure to address trafficking in these sectors allowed for abusive employers to sometimes operate with impunity. The government identified fewer victims, and it did not systematically implement standard operating procedures (SOPs) countrywide to proactively identify victims during law enforcement raids or among vulnerable populations with whom authorities came in contact. Because of inconsistent identification efforts, authorities continued to inappropriately penalize trafficking victims for immigration and “prostitution” violations. Poor interagency coordination and overall inadequate victim protection services, which discouraged foreign victims from remaining in Malaysia to participate in criminal proceedings, continued to hinder successful anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts.

  • Increase efforts to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, including household workers and workers in the palm oil and rubber manufacturing sectors.
  • Train relevant officials, including police, labor inspectors, and immigration officials, on SOPs for victim identification that include information on trafficking indicators.
  • Increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict more trafficking cases—as distinct from migrant smuggling—including those involving complicit officials and forced labor crimes.
  • Expand labor protections for domestic workers and investigate allegations of domestic worker abuse.
  • Make public the results of investigations involving corrupt officials to increase transparency and deterrence and hold officials criminally accountable when they violate the law.
  • Increase law enforcement capacity to investigate and prosecute trafficking cases, including by improving interagency coordination.
  • Effectively enforce the law prohibiting employers from retaining passports without employees’ consent, including by increasing resources for labor inspectors, and include language explicitly stating passports will remain in the employee’s possession in model contracts and future bilateral memoranda of understanding (MOU) with labor source countries.
  • Improve case management and communication with trafficking victims, including the consistent use of interpreters and the VAS program.
  • Expand efforts to inform migrant workers of their rights and Malaysian labor laws, including their rights to maintain access to their passports at any time, as well as opportunities for legal remedies to exploitation.
  • Create a system for access to timely and accurate interpretation in victims’ primary languages available to law enforcement, the court system, and shelters.
  • Expand cooperation with NGOs, including through financial or in-kind support to NGOs to provide some victim rehabilitation services.
  • Eliminate recruitment or placement fees charged to workers by recruiters and ensure recruitment fees are paid by employers.
  • Increase the number of trafficking victims who obtain approval for freedom of movement from shelters, expand freedom of movement to include unchaperoned movement, and increase victims’ access to communication with people outside shelter facilities.
  • Reduce prosecution delays, including by providing improved guidance to prosecutors on pursuing trafficking charges, and increase judicial familiarity with the full range of trafficking crimes, particularly forced labor.
  • Increase efforts to identify trafficking victims among People’s Republic of China (PRC) workers on PRC government-affiliated infrastructure projects.

The government increased law enforcement efforts. The 2007 Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants (ATIPSOM) Act criminalized labor trafficking and sex trafficking and prescribed punishments of three to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine, which were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious offenses, such as rape. In December 2021, Parliament passed a third amendment to ATIPSOM—previously amended in 2010 and 2015—which increased the penalties for some offenses and expanded the definition of trafficking to include other means. Nevertheless, officials did not consistently understand the definition of trafficking. Prosecutors often interpreted the definition of trafficking under ATIPSOM to require the physical restraint of a victim to pursue trafficking charges, which meant prosecutors did not pursue many potential trafficking cases—especially in cases where coercion was a primary element used by traffickers. The government also continued to conflate human trafficking and migrant smuggling, which impeded overall anti-trafficking law enforcement and victim identification efforts.

During the reporting period, law enforcement authorities conducted 108 human trafficking investigations, while other ministries referred 17 investigations to the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC), which included cases of sex trafficking, forced labor, child exploitation, and domestic servitude, all of which the police referred to the AGC for prosecution. This data compared with 118 human trafficking investigations and 109 referrals to the AGC for prosecution in the previous reporting period. The AGC initiated the prosecution of 31 cases of human trafficking, a decrease from 79 initiated prosecutions the previous year. During the reporting year, the courts convicted 55 human traffickers and migrant smugglers—though it did not disaggregate the data—under a range of laws, including the ATIPSOM Act, Immigration Act, and the Penal Code; sentencing of traffickers ranged from three to 18 years’ imprisonment under ATIPSOM, restitution of 10,000 Malaysian ringgit (RM) ($2,400) under the Immigration Act, and one to six years’ imprisonment under the Penal Code. This data compared to the conviction of 25 human traffickers and migrant smugglers in the previous reporting period. The government convicted five individuals for withholding the passports of employees under the Passport Act of 1966, but it did not report sentencing details for those convicted nor did it prosecute or convict these individuals for potential trafficking crimes; this demonstrated a decrease compared to the conviction of 26 individuals under this act during the previous reporting period. The government sometimes pursued cases of forced labor as disparate labor law violations instead of criminal cases of human trafficking or failed to investigate them at all. In March 2022, Parliament passed an amendment to the Employment Act, which added a definition of forced labor for employers that used threats of intimidation, restriction of movement, and fraud; the amendment also included penalties for forced labor offenses under the act that ranged from a fine of $25,000 to a maximum prison sentence of two years. The government did not report efforts to coordinate with foreign law enforcement to investigate or prosecute trafficking cases. However, the government’s child exploitation unit continued to cooperate with a foreign government on cases of online child sexual exploitation, including child sex trafficking cases, but pandemic-related restrictions hampered the unit’s overall capacity.

The government did not adequately address or criminally pursue credible allegations—during this reporting period and prior years—of labor trafficking in the rubber manufacturing and palm oil sectors, including inhumane living conditions for foreign workers made by international media, NGOs, and foreign governments. The government’s inaction to address these crimes and hold traffickers accountable in these sectors continued to create an environment in which labor trafficking flourished with impunity and trafficking victims remained vulnerable to abuse without protection. Furthermore, corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action during the year. The government did not report initiating any new prosecutions or convictions of government employees allegedly complicit in trafficking crimes. Although law enforcement agencies continued to arrest officials for complicity in trafficking, insufficient evidence collection hindered bringing these officials to justice, and authorities only transferred or demoted them, allowing impunity for complicity in human trafficking crimes to persist. During the reporting period, the Royal Malaysian Police (RMP) arrested six officials for involvement in trafficking crimes, but it did not report the details of these cases. The immigration department separately arrested 40 officials on trafficking-related charges, but the government did not prosecute them; it demoted or removed 29 of these officials from their jobs while it continued to investigate 11 of them at the end of the reporting period. The government continued to prosecute the former deputy prime minister, who also served as minister of home affairs, on 40 counts of corruption—charges brought in 2019—for allegations of receiving kickbacks in visa issuance contracts for foreign workers. The RMP arrested three officials for involvement in “baby selling” and charged them under the ATIPSOM Act; however, this case may not have met the definition of human trafficking under international law.

Malaysia’s criminal justice system continued to suffer resource constraints and uneven application of basic investigative and prosecutorial skills, which prevented judicial authorities from following through on trafficking cases at times. The pandemic further delayed or slowed criminal justice and law enforcement operations, including those related to human trafficking crimes, due to movement restrictions, social distancing, and court capacity requirements. The RMP continued to serve as the lead enforcement agency and assigned 248 officers to its specialized anti-trafficking unit. The Labor Department similarly had a specialized trafficking enforcement team with 42 officers. Although the government continued to operate an interagency anti-trafficking law enforcement task force under the Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants Council (MAPO council), which met virtually on a bi-weekly basis, coordination among agencies remained insufficient. The AGC increased the number of trafficking-specialist deputy public prosecutors from 73 to 79. Only two judges in the country specialized in the anti-trafficking law. The government continued to operate one special trafficking court in Selangor, but it did not implement plans to expand special trafficking courts around the country. The government conducted 79 anti-trafficking trainings for law enforcement and other government officials. It also conducted two trainings with an international organization and Malaysian businesses on fair recruitment practices and six trainings for private industry on forced labor in supply chains.

The government maintained mixed protection efforts. In 2021, the government identified and confirmed 96 trafficking victims among 373 potential victims, which represented a decrease from the previous reporting period when the government identified and confirmed 119 victims among 487. The government had victim identification SOPs—formally adopted in April 2020—to guide law enforcement officers to identify victims during official duties. However, the government did not systematically implement these SOPs nationwide, especially in rural areas and in the eastern states of Sabah and Sarawak, which resulted in officers’ failure to refer some victims to shelter and other protection services. The government continued to focus most of its identification efforts on the use of large-scale police raids of suspected commercial sex establishments and factories suspected of forced labor, the more prevalent trafficking problem in Malaysia; NGOs reported some police units continued to conduct these raids during the reporting period. The government, however, did not place adequate attention on the identification of victims of forced labor; officials often relied on reports of abuse from embassies representing foreign workers, victims to “self-identify,” or workers’ complaints of non-payment of wages and other violations. During large-scale operations to detect undocumented migrants, NGOs reported police and immigration officers inconsistently applied victim identification procedures or were slow to identify victims, ultimately preventing some foreign victims from receiving protection services. The government also did not adequately screen asylum-seekers and refugees for indicators of trafficking. Because of officials’ inconsistent use of victim identification SOPs, authorities may have detained, arrested, and deported some unidentified trafficking victims for immigration or “prostitution” violations. NGOs continued to report authorities treated potential victims identified during police or immigration raids like criminals; this treatment and the raid environment were not conducive to victims speaking candidly to law enforcement and consequently contributed to the government’s insufficient identification of victims.

ATIPSOM required the government place victims who were granted a court-ordered 21-day interim protection order (for potential trafficking victims) or a subsequent 90-day protection order (for certified trafficking victims) at a “place of refuge,” designated by the Minister of Home Affairs. During the reporting period, the government granted all 96 certified victims with full protection orders and housed them in government-operated shelters where they had access to food; some medical care; social, religious, and income-generating activities; and security. While the law permitted authorities to place victims who were Malaysian citizens or permanent residents in the care of family members or a guardian, as opposed to a government shelter or other designated place of refuge, the law required foreign victims to remain in government shelters for the duration of their protection orders. The government typically renewed protection orders for certified victims until the completion of the trial associated with their case; this resulted in some victims remaining in the shelters for more than six months. NGOs reported investigative authorities sometimes did not allow sufficient time to appropriately interview potential victims in shelters in order to certify them as victims and grant 90-day protection orders, which prevented some victims from obtaining protection services. Undocumented foreign trafficking victims had a considerably lower chance of obtaining protection orders compared with foreign victims who had valid immigration papers. Moreover, officials’ interpretation that ATIPSOM required a trafficking victim to be subjected to physical restraint prevented the government from identifying some victims and issuing protection orders to many potential victims.

The Ministry of Women, Family, and Community Development (MWFCD) continued to fund shelters for trafficking victims: eight government-operated and two NGO-operated. In 2021, MWFCD collaborated with civil society organizations to develop a training manual for protection officers and shelter personnel on victim-centered approaches to protecting trafficking victims. The government allocated 785,000 RM ($188,020) to two shelters operated by local NGOs that could assist potential and certified victims, an increase of RM 30,000 compared with its allocation of 755,000 RM ($180,840) to two shelters in 2020. However, the government reported it was unable to utilize allocated funds to NGO-operated shelters due to pandemic-related restrictions limiting in-person activities. NGO-operated government shelters continued to suffer staffing shortages and struggled to maintain adequate resources to consistently provide services, including interpreters, medical staff, and mental health counselors. Although the government continued to place translated shelter rules and regulations in five languages in some government shelters, language barriers continued to impact the government’s victim services in shelters and during the judicial process, as it did not have an institutionalized way to ensure timely and accurate communication with potential trafficking victims who did not speak Bahasa Malaysia or English. Shelter staff expanded victims’ communication, including with family members in their home countries, and while the government did not permit victims to possess personal phones in shelters, the Malaysian government expanded capacity to allow weekly internet calls to family from shelters, including video calls. Authorities did not permit victims to leave shelters unless immigration authorities granted them a freedom of movement pass; however, the government was less likely to approve these passes for female victims of sex trafficking. Although the government reported freedom of movement passes allowed victims to leave the shelters unchaperoned, in practice, a victim’s movement outside of shelters remained restricted to chaperoned trips. NGOs reported these shelter conditions resulted in victims feeling as though they were detained. The government issued 102 freedom of movement passes to potential and confirmed victims in 2021, an increase from the 66 passes issued in 2020. The government also granted 11 victims continued permission to work, which also demonstrated an increase from the one work visa it granted to a victim in the previous reporting period.

The government reported 55 victims participated in 110 investigations or prosecutions in 2021; it did not report how many victims participated in investigations or prosecutions in the previous reporting period. A 2014 directive required prosecutors to meet with victims at least two weeks prior to the start of a trial to prepare victims to record their statements and to help them understand the judicial process. Prosecutors reported they engaged with victims; however, limited availability of interpretation services made effective communication difficult. NGOs reported cases in which public prosecutors did not appropriately interview victims to ensure courts granted them protection orders. In 2021, the MAPO Council established a roster of volunteer interpreters, who spoke 16 languages and received anti-trafficking training from NGOs, to be available for victims who participated in investigations or prosecutions; during the year, interpreters assisted 32 victims at various stages of the legal process. Despite the availability of interpreters, observers reported victims still did not fully understand their rights during the judicial process, contributing to stress and reluctance to participate in investigations and prosecutions, particularly in rural areas where victim services were harder to access. Furthermore, the absence of shelters in northern Malaysia hindered the ability of prosecutors to meet with victims who were relocated to Kuala Lumpur for services. Some foreign victims reported a reluctance to stay in Malaysia to participate in prosecutions due to fears of extended shelter stays, unappealing shelter conditions, and intimidation from traffickers; some victims further reported authorities treated them like criminals, including taking victims to court in handcuffs for a trafficker’s trial. Although the law permitted victims to testify remotely, authorities generally expected victims to remain in-country pending trial proceedings. To address this challenge, the 2021 amendment to ATIPSOM granted magistrates the authority to extend protection orders for victims to record testimony, which could be used in lieu of in-person testimony, thereby allowing a foreign victim to return to their home country ahead of a trial. Labor trafficking victims could file civil suits against their employers to obtain compensation or recoup unpaid wages; however, the government did not provide restitution for sex trafficking victims. For labor trafficking victims who participated in court proceedings, the government instructed prosecutors to request restitution in each case; during the reporting period, prosecutors requested restitution in 13 cases and secured $25,000, which demonstrated an overall increase from $21,450 secured for five cases in 2020. The MAPO council conducted a 12-month pilot project—initiated in March 2021—to assess the government’s process for victims of labor trafficking to seek legal redress and to study the feasibility of an alternative referral system for labor trafficking cases; the government did not release the results of the project by the end of the reporting period.

The government added four additional officers to the VAS program under which a total of six appointed specialists provided services to trafficking victims from the time authorities identified them, through the judicial process, and during their repatriation to their home country. NGOs reported cases of authorities not allowing VAS specialists to join law enforcement during investigations or raids, which negatively impacted law enforcement’s ability to appropriately screen for and identify victims. The VAS specialists worked with and provided assistance to 66 victims during the reporting period, a substantial increase from the 15 victims they assisted in 2020. As in past years, many identified foreign victims preferred to return immediately to their home countries. The government worked with foreign diplomatic missions to fund and provide repatriation assistance for victims to return to their home countries. The government continued to give monthly allowance payments of 120 RM ($29) to victims for incidental expenditures. The government did not always disburse the funds on a monthly basis; some victims received the allowance as a lump sum when they repatriated home. The government did not provide legal alternatives to the removal of foreign victims to countries where they may face hardship or retribution. ATIPSOM required that foreign victims without legal residence in Malaysia be referred to immigration authorities for repatriation upon the revocation of their protection order.

The government increased efforts to prevent trafficking. The MAPO council—which included five enforcement bodies, other government entities, and three NGOs—continued to meet on a quarterly basis and coordinated interagency anti-trafficking efforts to implement the government’s 2021-2025 anti-trafficking NAP. The 2021 amendment to ATIPSOM increased the number of NGO members who were allowed to participate in the MAPO council from three to five. In 2021, the government maintained the allocated budget of 4 million RM ($958,080) to operate the MAPO council secretariat. In alignment with the goals of the NAP, in November 2021 the Ministry of Human Resources (MOHR) released and began to implement its National Action Plan Against Forced Labor (NAPFL) for 2021-2025, which the government wrote in close collaboration with the International Labor Organization and other non-governmental actors. The NAPFL included actions for the government, employers, workers, and civil society to collaborate to improve migration management, protect victims, and raise awareness about forced labor. The government did not have a central database to track or compile nationwide anti-trafficking law enforcement activities, victim identification statistics, or data on trafficking trends; individual ministries compiled anti-trafficking statistics, which they typically did not share widely with other ministries or with the public.

The government broadcasted 1,344 public service announcements on television stations and 120,462 on national radio networks, an increase from those it broadcasted in the previous reporting period. It also maintained 11 anti-trafficking television programs and increased radio programs from 10 to 16. The government created 10 anti-trafficking billboards and continued to distribute 200,000 brochures, raising trafficking awareness in multiple languages. Labor officials continued to provide banners and other signage at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in holding lounges for newly-arrived migrant workers (in a range of languages) to help educate foreign workers about their rights in Malaysia. The Department of Labor continued to operate a radio campaign promoting a program under which migrants could report labor abuses. Similar to the previous reporting period, the government hosted two public sessions for foreign workers in the palm oil industry about their legal rights and for employers on indicators of forced labor. The government continued to operate an anti-trafficking hotline; however, it was attached to a general government hotline staffed by operators who were not trained to work on human trafficking cases. The hotline reportedly received seven calls during the reporting period, which resulted in the initiation of seven law enforcement investigations and the identification of five potential trafficking victims. In May 2021, MOHR announced the implementation of a smartphone app for migrant workers to file labor complaints, which were referred to labor inspectors who were required to inspect an allegation within 10 days of a complaint. MOHR reported the app received approximately 50 complaints per day, most of which were complaints of withheld or late wages, but it did not report if inspectors identified any of these cases as labor trafficking.

The government continued to enforce its ban of Malaysia-based outsourcing companies, which often used practices that perpetuated debt-based coercion among migrant workers. The government’s Private Employment Agency Act (PEAA) required all private recruitment agencies to secure a license with the Ministry of Human Resources to recruit foreign workers, including domestic workers. The PEAA capped employee-paid “placement” fees at 25 percent of the first month’s basic wages for Malaysian workers employed within or outside of Malaysia and one month’s basic wages for non-citizens employed within Malaysia. The law did not define what comprised a “placement fee,” and enforcement of this rule was lacking; the majority of migrant workers in Malaysia paid much higher fees to recruitment agents, including in their home country, which contributed to the workers’ vulnerability to debt-based coercion. The government also mandated employers pay the foreign worker levy, a one-time cost paid to the government for any non-Malaysian the company hired, instead of forcing workers to bear the cost. The government did not report investigating any employment agencies for violating the PEAA during the current or previous reporting period. The government continued to use an online application system for employers to renew their workers’ temporary work permits without using a broker. The government re-signed a bilateral MOU with Bangladesh to allow migrant workers to work in Malaysia, which stipulated that all travel expenses including visa requirements were the responsibility of the Malaysian employer. However, observers reported concerns the MOU did not address the responsibilities of recruitment agencies in Bangladesh, which sometimes demanded additional fees from workers that contributed to debt-based coercion. In April 2022, the government officially signed an updated MOU with the Indonesian government on the recruitment of domestic workers, which expired in 2016. Malaysian employment law continued to exclude domestic workers from a number of protections, including maximum working hours and the country’s minimum wage.

Civil society continued to observe a lack of adequate efforts to inform migrant workers of their rights and Malaysian labor regulations. The government reported it employed 44 labor inspectors who focused on human trafficking for the entire country—a decrease from the 94 inspectors employed in the previous reporting period; the government assigned 30 of these inspectors to peninsular Malaysia, seven to Sarawak, and seven to Sabah where a large number of Malaysia’s palm oil plantations were located. The lack of adequate resources, including for additional labor inspectors, hindered the government’s efforts to adequately identify labor trafficking and enforce the prohibition on employer-perpetrated passport retention, which remained widespread. The government conducted 27,836 labor inspections during the reporting period, an increase from 24,294 inspections in the previous year. In 2021, labor courts resolved 7,515 labor disputes, ordered employers to provide workers back wages amounting to $5 million, and levied fines against employers who violated labor laws in the amount of $1 million; this compared with 10,465 labor disputes resolved, 18.06 million RM ($4.36 million) in back wages ordered to workers, and 499,570 RM ($119,660) in fines levied against employers in 2020.

Malaysian birth registration policies have left more than an estimated 500,000 individuals—including children—stateless and therefore unable to access some government services, including legal employment and public schools, increasing their vulnerability to trafficking. The law did not permit the government to grant stateless persons asylum or refugee status, which left more than 180,000 refugee-status-seekers and asylum-seekers in Malaysia, including more than 100,000 Rohingya, unable to obtain legal employment, which increased their vulnerability to exploitation. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Malaysia, and to a lesser extent, traffickers exploit victims from Malaysia abroad. The overwhelming majority of victims are among the estimated 1.4 million documented and an even greater number of undocumented migrant workers in Malaysia. Foreign workers constitute approximately 20 percent of the Malaysian workforce and typically migrate voluntarily—often through irregular channels—from Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, PRC, India, Indonesia, Laos, Nepal, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. More than one-third of all foreign workers are employed in the manufacturing sector, with others employed in construction, agriculture, and domestic work. Employers, employment agents, and illegal sub-agents exploit some migrants in labor trafficking primarily through debt-based coercion when workers are unable to pay the fees for recruitment and associated travel. Some agents in labor source countries impose onerous fees on workers before they arrive in Malaysia, and Malaysian agents administer additional fees after arrival—in some cases leading to forced labor through debt-based coercion. Large organized crime syndicates are responsible for some instances of trafficking. Employers utilize practices indicative of forced labor, such as restrictions on movement, violating contracts, wage fraud, assault, threats of deportation, the imposition of significant debts, and passport retention—which remained widespread—to exploit some migrant workers in labor trafficking on oil palm and agricultural plantations; at construction sites; in the electronics, garment, and rubber-product industries; and in homes as domestic workers. Malaysian law allows employers to hold workers’ passports with the workers’ permission, but it is difficult to determine if workers have freely given permission, and some employers retain the passports to prevent workers from changing jobs. According to a Malaysian government-funded survey from June 2018-January 2019 on the prevalence of forced and child labor in the palm oil sector, eight out of every 1,000 palm oil plantation workers were in situations of forced labor, with the prevalence rate considerably higher in Sarawak than in Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah. Furthermore, a 2018 NGO report documented multiple indicators of forced labor associated with the production of palm oil in Malaysia, including coercive practices such as threats, violence, lack of clarity of employment terms and conditions, dependency on the employer, lack of protection by police, debt bondage, high recruitment fees, and involuntary overtime. Traffickers use large smuggling debts incurred by refugees to subject them to debt-based coercion. PRC nationals working for PRC state-affiliated construction projects in Malaysia are vulnerable to forced labor.

Traffickers recruit some young foreign women and girls—mainly from Southeast Asia, although also recently from Nigeria—ostensibly for legal work in Malaysian restaurants, hotels, and beauty salons, or for brokered marriages, but instead compel them into commercial sex. Refugees, asylum-seekers, and stateless individuals who lack the ability to obtain legal employment in Malaysia are also vulnerable to sex and labor trafficking. Traffickers use false or fraudulent offers of assistance to recruit Rohingya asylum-seekers out of refugee camps in Bangladesh and Indonesia to exploit them in Malaysia, including women and girls coerced to engage in commercial sex. Traffickers also exploit some men and children, including Malaysians, into commercial sex. The Malaysian government has reported, since 2020, that children are vulnerable to online sexual exploitation, including some instances of child sex trafficking. Traffickers exploit Malaysian orphans and children from refugee communities in forced begging. Traffickers increasingly exploit Malaysian women and children in forced labor. Stateless children in Sabah were especially at risk of forced labor in palm oil production, service industries, and in forced begging. Media report young male and female Malaysians pay recruitment fees for promised high-paying jobs, but traffickers transfer them to Cambodia and exploit them and authorities arrest them for immigration violations. In order to circumvent the Indonesian government’s ban on Indonesian migration to 21 countries, some Indonesian workers transit Malaysia legally en route to Middle Eastern countries, where traffickers exploit some in forced labor.

Ongoing corruption related to processes for foreign nationals to work in Malaysia increases the cost of migration and consequently increases migrant workers’ vulnerability to trafficking through debt-based coercion. 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.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future