The government maintained mixed protection efforts. The government identified 180 confirmed trafficking victims – 36 exploited in sex trafficking and 144 exploited in forced labor – among 510 potential victims identified, compared with 96 confirmed victims among 373 potential victims in the previous reporting period. Of the 180 confirmed victims, traffickers exploited 23 women and seven girls in sex trafficking, including one victim with disabilities, and 58 women, 74 men, seven girls, and five boys in forced labor. The government had victim identification SOPs – formally adopted in April 2020 – for law enforcement to identify victims; however, the government did not systematically implement these SOPs nationwide, especially in rural areas and in the eastern states of Sabah and Sarawak. The government continued to conduct large-scale police raids of suspected commercial sex establishments and factories suspected of forced labor and, according to NGOs, large-scale operations to detect undocumented migrants, but did not report identifying any victims from these raids. Officials often relied on victims of labor trafficking to self-identify. The government also did not adequately screen asylum-seekers and refugees for trafficking indicators. Due to officials’ inconsistent use of victim identification SOPs, authorities may have detained, arrested, and deported some unidentified trafficking victims and prevented some foreign and domestic victims of trafficking victims from receiving protection services. NGOs continued to report authorities treated potential victims identified during police or immigration raids as criminals; authorities may have traumatized victims during raids and as a result victims likely declined to speak with law enforcement.
The government granted all 180 certified victims with full protection orders in accordance with the law and provided them housing in government-operated or -funded shelters; this compared with 96 certified victims in the previous reporting period who received full protection orders and shelter. Potential victims could also receive shelter resources. Authorities provided victims with food; medical care; social, religious, and income-generating activities; security; and a stipend – either in monthly allocations or a lump-sum – of 120 RM ($27) for incidental expenditures. The law required foreign victims to remain in government shelters for the duration of their protection orders; domestic victims could stay with family members or a guardian. 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 to certify them as victims and grant 90-day protection orders, which prevented some victims from obtaining protection services. Authorities were less likely to provide protection orders for undocumented foreign victims.
The Ministry of Women, Family, and Community Development (MWFCD) funded shelters for trafficking victims. The government operated eight shelters – five for women, one for men, one for girls, and one for boys – and provided funding for two NGO-run shelters – both for women and children; however, shelters were not available in parts of the country, which may have discouraged investigative officers from filing trafficking cases in those regions. During the reporting period, shelter staff relocated a transgender woman survivor from a men’s shelter to a private home for safety. MWFCD established a “transit center” in Sarawak to temporarily provide shelter for victims in March 2023 while plans to establish a permanent shelter there continued; however, the government did not report placing victims at the temporary shelter by the end of the reporting period. MAPO approved an NGO proposal for a “one-stop shop” for authorities to bring victims immediately upon leaving their trafficking situation and provide temporary shelter, a health screening, interpretation, and psychosocial counseling to support better victim protections and evidence collection, including victim statements. The first center reported providing services to 25 victims since it opened in December 2022. The government implemented an SOP developed in the previous reporting period by MWFCD and civil society for protection officers and shelter staff on victim-centered and trauma-informed approaches when delivering services to victims. In collaboration with an NGO, MWFCD developed a kit for victims admitted to shelters that included hygiene products, personal items, and informational materials presented in seven languages on trafficking and migrant worker rights. The government allocated 806,000 RM ($183,180) for the two NGO-operated shelters, an increase from 785,000 RM ($178,410) in 2021. 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 government shelters, language barriers continued to affect 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 facilitated victims’ communication with family members, including in other countries. Authorities did not permit foreign 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 women sex trafficking victims. Although the government reported freedom of movement passes allowed victims to leave the shelters unchaperoned, in practice, a victim’s movement outside of shelters often remained restricted to chaperoned trips. NGOs reported these shelter conditions resulted in victims feeling as though they were detained. Civil society reported some law enforcement officials advised victims waiting for transition to official shelter to “change their story” in an attempt to expedite the transfer. The government issued 172 freedom of movement passes to potential and confirmed victims in 2022, an increase from the 102 passes issued in 2021. The government granted 25 victims continued permission to work, an increase from the 11 work visas granted in the previous reporting period.
The government reported 180 victims provided statements to authorities during investigations, 89 of whom participated as witnesses during prosecution. The government did not report this data in the previous reporting period; however, it reported 55 victims participated in 110 investigations or prosecutions in 2021. 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. Observers noted prosecutors, shelter staff, and law enforcement underutilized interpretation services, likely due to long wait times when coordinating with interpreters’ availability. NGOs reported cases in which public prosecutors failed to interview victims for protection orders. The MAPO Council maintained a roster of 46 volunteer interpreters, who spoke a total of 18 languages and received anti-trafficking training from NGOs, to be available for victims who participated in investigations or prosecutions. 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, limited shelter capacity in northern Malaysia hindered the ability of prosecutors there 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 as criminals. Although the law permitted victims to testify remotely, authorities generally expected victims to remain in-country pending trial proceedings. The 2021 amendment to the trafficking law 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; the government did not report any foreign victims using this option during the reporting period. Prosecutors requested restitution in eight cases involving labor trafficking victims who participated in court proceedings and secured 149,535 RM ($33,990), compared with $25,000 secured for 13 cases in 2022. The government did not report providing restitution for sex trafficking victims. Labor trafficking victims could file civil suits against their employers to obtain compensation or recoup unpaid wages; however, lengthy court processes deterred victims from filing suits. The MAPO council discontinued its 12-month pilot project – initiated in 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 had eight Victim Assistance Specialists who drafted reports for investigating officers, advocated for victims’ needs, facilitated concerns to law enforcement, and delivered trauma-informed care to trafficking victims. The number of specialists was insufficient to adequately support the number of victims, and most specialists were located in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor. NGOs reported cases of authorities not allowing the specialists to join law enforcement during investigations or raids, which harmed law enforcement’s ability to appropriately screen for and identify victims. Specialists could only assist victims at the discretion of the investigating officers or Deputy Public Prosecutors. The specialists worked with 25 foreign victims, a decrease from assisting 66 victims in 2021. Reports of Malaysians exploited abroad in cyber scam operations increased during the reporting period. The government worked with foreign diplomatic missions to fund and provide repatriation assistance for victims to return to their home countries; however, NGOs reported the government did not provide services to Malaysian victims identified abroad in cyber scam operations, did not file reports, and denied jurisdictional responsibility for cases, deferring victims to Interpol. Many confirmed foreign victims preferred to return immediately to their home countries. In April 2022, the media reported the government engaged with Cambodian law enforcement to request the release of Malaysian victims forcibly held on a compound and exploited in forced labor in cyber scam operations. In October 2022, an NGO reported Malaysian victims exploited in forced labor in cyber scams in Laos were physically abused if they did not meet unrealistic quotas or if they attempted to escape; they further estimated the number of Malaysian victims to be in the hundreds. In December 2022, the media reported traffickers lured eight Malaysians with fraudulent job offers to the United Arab Emirates, and, upon arrival, took their phones and passports and exploited the victims in forced labor in an online gambling scheme. The Malaysia consulate in Dubai collaborated with the Emirati government and an NGO to facilitate the victims’ repatriation after the victims escaped and reported to local law enforcement in Dubai. The government did not provide legal alternatives to the removal of foreign victims to countries where they may face hardship or retribution. The law required officials to refer foreign victims without legal residence in Malaysia to immigration authorities for repatriation upon the expiration of their protection order.