Check if Rohingya refugees are trafficking victims, govt urged

Over 200 Rohingya including 49 children were intercepted by authorities off Langkawi earlier this month. (MMEA pic)

PETALING JAYA: Authorities have been urged to investigate the possibility that the Rohingya refugees recently detained in Langkawi are in fact victims of human trafficking.

Lawyer Christina Teng, whose Protect Malaysia movement seeks justice for victims of crimes, said about 164 of the 269 who landed were females.

“Are they potential victims?” she asked, citing past reports of Rohingya children, especially young girls, being sold into forced labour or prostitution, or ending up as child brides.

Teng’s concerns followed a report released by the Child Rights Coalition Malaysia (CRCM) which said Malaysia had become a destination for the sex trafficking of Rohingya girls.

This was affirmed by Klang MP Charles Santiago who went on a fact-finding mission in 2018. He said the women and girls who were trafficked were from Rakhine state.

CRCM, together with the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality, had also called for the immediate release of the 269 refugees and a halt to the practice of detaining refugees.

But Teng voiced concern over the fate of the women and children among them if they were to be released.

“Right now, we don’t know where these girls would end up should the government acquiesce to the demands of some NGOs to release these refugees,” she told FMT.

On the government’s recent announcement that it would not allow Rohingya refugees, especially those who fled from Cox Bazar in Bangladesh, to remain in the country, she said she understood its concerns.

However, she reiterated that Malaysia should not support the trafficking of women and children who were open to exploitation in the country.

She said trafficking syndicates were making hundreds of millions, with extensive networks which she alleged reached the top levels in various countries.

She said the victims, who would pay the syndicates up to RM15,000, would be smuggled into the country by boat.

This, she said, was another reason to probe asylum seekers, to allow the necessary action to be taken against such syndicates including the implementation of heavier sentences.

Teng also urged authorities to look into whether those who attempt to enter the country are undocumented or economic migrants.

She referred to a statement by the Indonesian government in 2015 saying that most of the migrants at sea in Southeast Asia were not Rohingya but undocumented labourers from Bangladesh.

She said it was vital to validate any claims for asylum to ensure that genuine cases are given assistance.

Citing past reports, she also spoke of undocumented migrants who “impersonate” Rohingya refugees in order to enter Malaysia.

She claimed many of the Rohingya in the country were from Bangladesh, adding that they were not oppressed but looking to make a better life for themselves.

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