The government maintained uneven protection efforts. During the reporting period, the government identified 2,229 potential victims and confirmed 82 victims, an increase compared to 1,305 potential victims and confirmed 97 victims during the previous reporting period. Of the 82 confirmed victims, 55 were adult women. The government continued to focus most of its identification efforts on the use of large-scale police raids of suspected commercial sex establishments, rather than placing adequate attention to the investigation of forced labor, the larger trafficking problem in Malaysia. The anti-trafficking council (MAPO) drafted new victim identification SOPs during the reporting period, and the government reported it would disseminate the SOPs to NGOs for their review; however, the government did not finalize or disseminate the SOPs by the end of the reporting period. Observers reported the current SOPs used by each of the five law enforcement agencies lacked basic indicators that would allow officials to proactively and accurately identify trafficking victims and instead focused on the role and responsibility of the officer once a victim was referred to law enforcement. Officials reported an interpretation that ATIPSOM required a trafficking victim be subjected to physical restraint prevented the government from issuing protection orders to many suspected victims of trafficking. The government did not adequately screen asylum-seekers and refugees for indicators of trafficking. Officials reported the government’s identification of labor trafficking victims often relied on reports of abuse from embassies representing foreign workers or from workers’ complaints of non-payment of wages and other violations, rather than proactive screening efforts. NGOs relayed that authorities often 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. NGOs reported that officials arrested and charged some victims for prostitution or immigration violations instead of identifying them as trafficking victims. As a result, the government detained some victims in immigration detention centers, which were often overcrowded and did not provide adequate medical care, food, clothing, or clean water. The government extended its pilot program that provided victim assistance specialists until March 2021. Two specialists worked with more than 100 victims during the reporting period to provide assistance during their identification, through the judicial process, and during their repatriation in their home country.
ATIPSOM required the government to place victims 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. The government housed the majority of identified victims in government-operated shelters where they had access to food, medical care, social and religious activities, and security. The Ministry of Women, Family, and Community Development continued to fund and operate eight shelters for trafficking victims, one of which became operational during the reporting period, including five for women, one for men, and two for children. While the law permitted victims who were Malaysian citizens or permanent residents to be placed in the care of family members or a guardian, as opposed to a government shelter or other designated place of refuge, foreign victims were required 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 up to six months. Shelter staff limited victims’ communication, including with family members in their home countries, and the government did not permit victims to possess personal phones in shelters. The government reported it allotted each victim 35 Malaysian ringgit (RM) ($8.56) to make telephone calls each month; however, in practice this amounted to one or two calls supervised by shelter staff. Some government shelters were not able to track phone costs per victim and instead instituted one 10-minute international phone call per month, while others only allowed calls within Malaysia. Further, victims were not permitted to leave shelters unless authorities granted them a special immigration pass that authorized freedom of movement. However, in practice, a victim’s freedom of movement outside of shelters remained restricted to chaperoned trips. NGOs reported these shelter conditions resulted in victims feeling as though they were detained. Of the 82 confirmed victims, the government issued 45 special immigration passes that authorized freedom of movement, compared with 68 passes for 97 confirmed victims during the previous reporting period. The government was less likely to approve these passes for female victims of sex trafficking. While the government reported it streamlined the process to issue immigration passes, which required a security risk assessment, medical screening, and mental health evaluation, by the end of their 21-day interim protection order, the majority of confirmed victims did not receive this pass, and the government continued to lack enough qualified mental health counselors to conduct the required psycho-social evaluation during the appointed timeframe. Although the government did not require victims to participate in prosecutions to access immigration passes or work permits, NGOs reported the government required victims seeking these benefits to make an initial deposition in court. The government issued a work visa to one victim during the reporting period, compared to zero in the previous reporting period.
NGOs reported medical screening was inadequate for victims upon arrival to government shelters, and shelters lacked full access to reproductive health and dental services. Shelters did not have medical staff on site, and accessing medical care required shelter staff to coordinate transportation and a chaperone. An NGO that funded and provided medical and mental health care for victims at four government shelters since 2017 faced budgetary constraints and ceased its programming during the reporting period; the government did not report efforts to seek alternative solutions to provide this care in their absence. The government allocated one million RM ($244,560) to two shelters operated by local NGOs that could assist potential and certified victims. NGOs provided some victim rehabilitation services, including medical care and counseling, without government-allocated funding; however, NGOs continued to express difficulty maintaining adequate resources and staffing levels to provide consistent services for victims. Despite placing translated shelter rules and regulations in five languages in some government shelters, language barriers continued to impact the government’s victim services. The lack of available and adequate interpretation services prevented some victims from understanding shelter rules and their rights during the judicial process, contributing to stress and reluctance to participate in prosecutions. As in past years, many identified 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 countries of origin. The government continued to give monthly allowance payments of 127 RM ($31) 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. Shelter staff continued to provide opportunities for victims to engage in handicrafts and other income-generating activities in the shelter. The government offered technical and vocational training for shelter residents in the Kuala Lumpur women’s shelter and the Malacca men’s shelter; since this program was established in February 2019, 51 victims (44 women and seven men) participated in English-language classes and vocational courses in cosmetology. For victims who participated in court proceedings, prosecutors noted they were instructed to request restitution in each case; in 2019, prosecutors requested restitution in 24 cases, compared with 29 in 2018, and secured 124,410 RM ($30,430). 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.