Malaysia is host to one of the largest refugee and asylum seeker populations in Asia. The absence of refugee protection in the national legal system is an overarching structural issue that gives rise to many issues and concerns. Unable to work legally in the country, many refugees and asylum seekers survive on low-paying jobs in the plantation, construction, manufacturing, or service sectors – albeit without legal protection and with increased vulnerability to human trafficking and forced labor. Although Malaysia has ratified 5 out of 8 core ILO conventions, notably the C29 Forced Labor Convention (1930), the rights of non-citizens under these and other domestic laws apply only to those deemed legal. Refugees and asylum seekers are considered “ illegal immigrants” under Malaysian law, specifically the Immigration Act 1959/63 (Act 155).
Malaysia is considered to be a destination country and to a lesser extent, a source and transit country for persons experiencing human trafficking – including for forced labor. The Malaysian government has undertaken several measures to address human trafficking in the country. However, protection and psychosocial assistance to people who have experienced forced labor and human trafficking, and the specific vulnerability of refugees and asylum seekers to forced labor and human trafficking, are emerging areas of concern in Malaysia – although lacking in systematic inquiry. Equally, the medical and psychological consequences of forced labor are a relatively under-examined research topic. This report, seeks to address these gaps.
The findings of this study were first released at a National Consultation on theHealth Dimensions of Human Trafficking and Forced Labor: The Malaysian Experience and Response, co-organized by Health Equity Initiatives, the Malaysian Bar Council and the Malaysian Trades Union Congress, on 26 July 2011.