Sunday 4 September 2011

Wikileaks: Immigration dept linked to human trafficking

A leaked confidential US embassy cable from 2008 has raised serious allegations of human trafficking activity among Malaysian Immigration Department officials working at the Malaysia-Thai border.

The cable, dated Sept 10, 2008, outlined a report by Keith Luse, a professional staff member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on his investigations into claims that Burmese refugees were being trafficked at the border with the involvement of Malaysian immigration officers.

immigration department and refugeesThe cable stated that Luse, who was here earlier that year from Aug 25-31, had met with various NGOs, activists, refugees and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) country representative, who "generally corroborated allegations" that lower-level immigration officers were involved in trafficking of Burmese refugees.

The activists and NGOs also informed Luse that the human traffickers dealing with the Malaysian immigration authorities comprised of Thai, Malaysian and Burmese nationals, the cable added.

Based on sources' description of trafficking activities at the Thai-Malaysia border as outlined by Luse, immigration officers allegedly transported Burmese refuges from Immigration Detention Centres (IDC) using official vehicles to the border between 1 and 3am.

The refugees were then allegedly handed over to traffickers operating from the Thai side of the border.
"Immigration officials received between RM400-700 per refugee. The size of the refugee group sold to traffickers averaged between 45-100 persons, including men, women and children," stated the cable, posted on Wikileaks.

Luse's report indicated that at this point, the traffickers would give the refugees a chance to contact someone in Malaysia to pay a ransom of RM1,500 to RM1,900 per person. Those able to pay were smuggled back into Malaysia and released.

"Those unable to pay were sold to the Thai fishing industry, factories, farms or plantations if a man. Traffickers allegedly sell women to brothels, hotels and into domestic servitude. Some sources indicated traffickers might force some children to work as child beggars in Bangkok and elsewhere," said the cable, which however stressed that the last claim remained unsubstantiated.

The cable pointed out that refugees' experiences being sent to the border, as described to Luse and a senior embassy official, "closely match" the trafficking allegations, which were also "very similar" to written statements claiming immigration officers were trafficking in Burmese refugees as far back as 1995.
The cable noted that Luse had met with the then immigration director-general Mahmood Adam and enforcement director Ishak Mohamad on Aug 29 to discuss the allegations of involvement of immigration department personnel, which both men "categorically denied". 

'Rela indirectly implicated'

Mahmood, now the Home Ministry secretary-general, was quoted by the cable as saying that the government paid immigration officers well with newly employed officers earning around RM1,300 a month.
rela 300507 groupHowever, the cable claimed that Mahmood had "indirectly tried to implicate" Rela members in the alleged trafficking of Burmese refugees by noting that the volunteer auxiliary force supports the immigration department's workforce at IDCs by providing guards.

Luse had also held two separate meetings with Ramlan Ibrahim, the undersecretary for Southeast Asian Affairs in the Foreign Affairs Ministry and Kamal Khalid, who was at the time the head of the Prime Minister's Office's communications unit head to inform them of an up-coming Senate report on alleged trafficking of Burmese refugees in Malaysia, said the cable.

"On both occasions, the Malaysian officials focussed the discussion on broader issues. Ramlan spoke about the general immigration problems Malaysia faces; especially undocumented economic migrants," the cable said, adding a note that pointed out that the federal government had "repeatedly" raised pull-factor concerns during discussions on Malaysia's refugee policy.

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