The KL Women’s Shelter played host to the US Ambassador-at Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, John Cotton Richmond, for a learning visit and interactive exchange of ideas and sharing of problems/issues on human trafficking.
He was accompanied by :
- Daniel Wright, Deputy Political Counselor, U.S. Embassy Kuala Lumpur
- Rachel Kallas, Political Officer, U.S. Embassy Kuala Lumpur
- Andrea Wilson, Foreign Affairs Officer, U.S. Department of State
Also present were representatives from NSO MAPO (National Strategic Office Council for Anti Trafficking in Persons), JPW (Jabatan Pembangunan Wanita); Srs. Joan Lopez, Province Leader Malaysia-Singapore, Sr. Patricia B., Sr. Sandra.
There was a myriad of opinions and ideas going back and forth. All present learnt much from each other, and discovered similar problems were encountered notwithstanding the different circumstances in each country.
For example, gaining the trust of victims was not easy, exacerbated by the frustrations arising from the language barrier, especially in this region where victims are from various different countries and ethnicities, languages and dialects.
The women and children targeted by the perpetrators are from very vulnerable situations, understandably, and then they are further mistreated by the perpetrators as well as employers (especially in the case of domestic workers). A further victimisation of the victims.
Ambassador Richmond had some interesting advice. To overcome the language barrier, he suggested to reach out to foreign students in the universities to be trained as translators. He also mooted the idea of establishing a community of survivors – who get together to engage with the government, not to speak of their past lives, but more in an advisory capacity based on their experiences.
Victims Assistance Specialists (VAS) – a similar system already established in the US. Malaysia’s pilot project just started in March 2019 and has received positive feedback from the AGC, Immigration and other government departments, even though it had a slow start initially. Following on this, we are now looking at ways to improve and make it a more permanent structure, eg. for each state to have its own VAS unit.
In summary, the most important points to collectively address the issue of trafficking in persons :
Identify more victims.
Engage with the victims/ current residents if they know of anybody else out there in the same predicament. Put pressure on the police and related authorities to zoom in on the suspected perpetrators.
We need to be more ‘imaginative’ and think out of the box in providing care and services in a more individualistic manner. One size does not fit all here.
Constant pressure on the government and enforcement agencies to arrest and charge the perpetrators and hold them accountable.
Doing 1.2.3 above on repeat mode. The basic order of operations. This should be the narrative.
The meeting concluded with a guided tour of the shelter premises, which left them suitably impressed. It was indeed a mutually fruitful visit for all concerned.