London, 27 May 2015
The Equal Rights Trust has today called on the government of Malaysia to establish an independent and comprehensive investigation into allegations that immigration officials were actively involved in the trafficking of stateless Rohingya migrants. The Trust’s call follows the discovery on 25 May of 28 suspected human trafficking camps and 139 mass graves in northern Malaysia, close to the Thai border.
The Trust is calling for Malaysia to use the occasion of the Special Meeting on Irregular Migration in the Indian Ocean in Bangkok on 29 May to announce an independent investigation into allegations of state complicity in trafficking which the Trust first made in 2010.
In its 2010 report Trapped in the Cycle of Flight: Stateless Rohingya in Malaysia, the Equal Rights Trust provided detailed evidence of the collusion between Malaysian immigration officials and those trafficking Rohingya through camps on the Thailand-Malaysia border. It included testimony from trafficked Rohingya who stated that Malaysian police and immigration officials would “deport” Rohingya into the hands of traffickers in exchange for cash.
Equal Rights Trust Executive Director, Dimitrina Petrova said:
“The Malaysian government has a great deal to answer for. They undoubtedly knew, by no later than 2010, that Rohingya were being regularly trafficked across the Malaysia-Thailand border. Moreover, the government failed to act on credible reports on the involvement of their own immigration officials in these practices. No one can know how many lives would have been saved if they had acted sooner.”
The 2010 report documented a cycle of flight, trafficking, detention and deportation which ensnared thousands of Rohingya trying to reach Malaysia. It described how, having transported desperate Rohingya to Thailand, traffickers demanded payment in order to smuggle them into Malaysia, their destination of choice. Once in Malaysia, Rohingya were frequently arrested, detained in camps, and eventually deported again back into the hands of traffickers, in exchange for cash. The traffickers would then seek ransom from the relatives of the trafficked, with those who could not pay sold into bonded labour in plantations and on shipping boats, an ordeal which few survived. The report also included survivors’ testimony on the appalling torture, extortion, and sale into bonded labour taking place in the Malaysian camps.
Trapped in a Cycle of Flight was the first of a number of reports produced as a result of the Equal Rights Trust’s five year engagement in Malaysia. In 2012, the Trust published Washing the Tigers: Addressing Discrimination and Inequality in Malaysia, a comprehensive report on the rights to equality and non-discrimination, containing a section of the ill-treatment of Rohingya. In 2014, the Trust published a second report on the experiences of stateless Rohingya in Malaysia: Equal Only in Name: the Human Rights of Stateless Rohingya in Malaysia.