[Senate Prints 111-18]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office]

111th Congress 
 1st Session                COMMITTEE PRINT                     S. Prt.
                      TRAFFICKING AND EXTORTION OF

                      BURMESE MIGRANTS IN MALAYSIA

                         AND SOUTHERN THAILAND


                                A REPORT

                                 TO THE


                          UNITED STATES SENATE

                     One Hundred Eleventh Congress

                             First Session

                             April 3, 2009


                COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN RELATIONS          

                One Hundred Eleventh Congress          

             JOHN F. KERRY, Massachusetts, Chairman        
CHRISTOPHER J. DODD, Connecticut     RICHARD G. LUGAR, Indiana
RUSSELL D. FEINGOLD, Wisconsin       Republican Leader designee
BARBARA BOXER, California            BOB CORKER, Tennessee
ROBERT MENENDEZ, New Jersey          JOHNNY ISAKSON, Georgia
BENJAMIN L. CARDIN, Maryland         JAMES E. RISCH, Idaho
ROBERT P. CASEY, Jr., Pennsylvania   JIM DeMINT, South Carolina
JIM WEBB, Virginia                   JOHN BARRASSO, Wyoming
JEANNE SHAHEEN, New Hampshire        ROGER F. WICKER, Mississippi
                  David McKean, Staff Director        
        Kenneth A. Myers, Jr., Republican Staff Director        


                            C O N T E N T S

Letter of Transmittal............................................     v

Foreword.........................................................     1

Executive Summary................................................     1

SFRC Staff Recommendations.......................................     3

Introduction.....................................................     5

Burma Exodus.....................................................     6

Extortion in Malaysia............................................     7

People as a Commodity............................................     7

In the Words of the Refugees.....................................     9

An Overview of Malaysia, Refugees and UNHCR......................    12

Making One's Way to Malaysia.....................................    14

Refugees Not Welcome.............................................    15

A Remote and Dangerous Area......................................    15

A Call for the End of RELA.......................................    16

Conclusion.......................................................    16

Acknowledgements.................................................    17



                         LETTER OF TRANSMITTAL


                              United States Senate,
                            Committee on Foreign Relations,
                                     Washington, DC, April 3, 2009.
    Dear Colleagues: Since 1995, approximately 40,000 Burmese 
refugees have resettled in the United States, fleeing the 
repressive military junta in Burma. The majority of refugee 
arrivals come via the United Nations High Commissioner for 
Refugees offices in Bangkok, Thailand or Kuala Lumpur, 
    Over a year ago, Keith Luse, my Senior Professional Staff 
Member for East Asia and the Pacific, began reviewing 
allegations about mistreatment of Burmese refugees enroute to 
the United States--specifically, that they were victims of 
extortion and human trafficking in Malaysia and southern 
Thailand. The attached staff report and recommendations 
represent findings from research in Malaysia, Thailand and the 
United States, as well as information obtained from other 
    Subsequent to the preparation of this report, Malaysian 
police announced on April 1 that an investigation of these 
allegations has been launched. I welcome this encouraging 
    Life and death issues confronting migrants and refugees in 
Southeast Asia are not restricted to Malaysia and Thailand. 
Likewise, these and other Southeast Asia countries daily 
observe an endless flow of persons across their borders--in 
pursuit of employment, seeking a better life and escaping harm 
in Burma.
    The attached report examines a specific and narrow 
component of a broader regional issue, namely, the ongoing 
migrant and refugee crisis throughout ASEAN which calls for the 
establishment of a comprehensive regional policy.
                                          Richard G. Lugar,
                                           Ranking Minority Member



      Many of the victims are enroute to the U.S. for resettlement



    In recent years, Malaysian print and television media, and 
non-governmental organizations (NGOs), as well as international 
NGOs and media, have reported the alleged mistreatment of 
Burmese migrants in Malaysia, along the Malaysia-Thailand 
border, and in southern Thailand.
    While the allegations which led to the preparation of this 
report are not new, the report's content is based on first 
person accounts of extortion and trafficking in Malaysia and 
along the Malaysia-Thailand border. Committee information comes 
from experiences of Burmese refugees resettled in the United 
States and other countries. Malaysian Government officials 
continually deny such allegations. As reported recently in the 
Malaysia Star, ``Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar also 
denied claims that thousands of illegal foreigners held at 
detention centres were ``being sold off'' to human trafficking 
syndicates. `I take offence with the allegation because neither 
the Malaysian Government nor its officials make money by 
selling people.' ''
    However, on April 1, 2009, Inspector-General of Police Tan 
Sri Musa Hassan stated that an investigation has been launched.
    This is the first of three reports.

                           Executive Summary

    In 2007, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee began 
receiving disturbing reports alleging the trafficking and 
extortion of Burmese and other migrants in Malaysia and from 
Malaysia into Thailand, for personal profit by some Malaysian 
Government officials, among others.\1\ Committee staff 
conducted a year-long review of the trafficking and extortion 
    \1\ In this report, the term ``Malaysian Government officials,'' or 
reference to such may refer to Malaysia RELA (Malaysia's deputized 
citizens' corps), immigration, and /or police officials.
    The committee has an active interest in the treatment of 
Burmese migrants in Malaysia. Many of the approximately 40,000 
Burmese refugees who have resettled in the United States since 
1995, have come via Malaysia.
    Malaysia does not officially recognize refugees, due in 
part to concern by the Government that official recognition of 
refugees would encourage more people to enter Malaysia, 
primarily for economic reasons.\2\ Also, Malaysian officials 
view migrants as a threat to Malaysia's national security.
    \2\ ``Overview of Burmese Refugees, Malaysia's Refugee Policies,'' 
Congressional Research Service, Rhoda Margesson and Michael Martin, 
November 10, 2008.
    In an interview with The New York Times, ``Rela's 
(Malaysia's deputized citizens' corps) director-general, Zaidon 
Asmuni, said, ``We have no more Communists at the moment, but 
we are now facing illegal immigrants. As you know, in Malaysia, 
illegal immigrants are enemy No. 2.'' \3\
    \3\ The New York Times, ``A Growing Source of Fear for Migrants in 
Malaysia,'' December 10, 2007, Seth Mydans.
    Many Burmese migrants travel to Malaysia to register with 
the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), for 
resettlement to a third country. Typically they profess fear of 
persecution by the repressive Burmese military junta. Once in 
Malaysia, Burmese migrants are often arrested by Malaysian 
authorities, whether or not they have registered with the UNHCR 
and have identification papers. Personal belongings confiscated 
at the time of arrest are usually kept by Malaysian officials.
    Burmese migrants are reportedly taken by Malaysian 
Government personnel from detention facilities to the Malaysia-
Thailand border for deportation. Allegations received by the 
committee from migrants, spanning years of personal experience, 
are similar to reports issued by NGOs and human rights 
    Upon arrival at the Malaysia-Thailand border, human 
traffickers reportedly take possession of the migrants and 
issue ransom demands on an individual basis. Migrants state 
that freedom is possible only once money demands are met. 
Specific payment procedures are outlined, which reportedly 
include bank accounts in Kuala Lumpur to which money should be 
    The committee was informed that on some occasions, the 
``attendance'' list reviewed by traffickers along the border 
was identical to the attendance list read prior to departure 
from the Malaysian detention facilities.
    Migrants state that those unable to pay are turned over to 
human peddlers in Thailand, representing a variety of business 
interests ranging from fishing boats to brothels.
    The committee has received numerous reports of sexual 
assaults against Burmese women by human traffickers along the 
border. One NGO official states that ``Most young women 
deported to the Thai border are sexually abused, even in front 
of their husbands, by the syndicates, since no one dares to 
intervene as they would be shot or stabbed to death in the 
    In August, 2008, committee staff met separately with 
officials in Malaysia's Immigration department and the Prime 
Minister's office, to again convey the committee's concern 
regarding the extortion and trafficking allegations. 
Immigration Director-General Datuk Mahmood Bin Adam and long-
time Immigration enforcement official Datuk Ishak Haji Mohammed 
denied the allegations of mistreatment against Burmese migrants 
at the hands of immigration and other Malaysian officials.
    On December 11, 2008, The New Straits Times reported that 
``Immigration enforcement director Datuk Ishak Haji Mohamed has 
opted for early retirement following his sudden transfer to the 
Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry.''
    Director-General Mahmood's predecessor, Datuk Wahid bin 
Mohamed Don and others were arrested by the Anti-Corruption 
Agency for alleged graft in 2008.
    Statements are continuing to come to the committee from 
Burmese and other migrants who were taken to the Thailand-
Malaysia border and threatened with violence, or being handed 
over to human traffickers unless extortion demands were met.

          Details provided to the committee by Burmese refugees 
        to the United States include names of persons to whom 
        payments are allegedly made; payment locations in 
        Malaysia and Thailand; bank account numbers to which 
        extortion payments are deposited; locations along the 
        Thailand-Malaysia border where migrants are reportedly 
        taken by Malaysian officials; and the identification of 
        persons allegedly involved in the trafficking of 
        migrants and refugees. This information is being 
        separately forwarded to law enforcement officials.

          In addition to possible prosecution in Malaysia and 
        Thailand, any persons allegedly involved in the 
        trafficking of Burmese migrants in those or other 
        countries in Southeast Asia, are subject to possible 
        arrest and prosecution by U.S. law enforcement 
        authorities after entering the United States. The 
        Trafficking Victims Protection Act, as amended, grants 
        the United States extra-territorial jurisdiction to 
        prosecute any trafficking offense, or any attempt or 
        conspiracy to commit an offense, by any individual 
        present in the United States, irrespective of the 
        nationality of the alleged offender or the location of 
        the alleged offense.

    The allegations of mistreatment by Malaysian Government 
officials and human trafficking syndicates in southern Thailand 
are not restricted to Burmese migrants, including refugees. 
However, the preponderance of complaints received by the 
committee are from ethnic minority migrants who fled Burma.
    This report does not focus on other reported challenges 
confronting foreign migrants and workers in Malaysia, in 
Thailand, or while enroute to Malaysia from other countries. 
Whipping and torture while in Malaysian detention facilities 
are among other allegations received.

                       SFRC Staff Recommendations

    1. The Government of Malaysia should address the 
trafficking, selling and slavery of Burmese and other migrants 
within Malaysia and across its border with Thailand. Malaysian 
Police and Anti-Corruption officials should be encouraged to 
investigate and prosecute cases involving the trafficking of 
Burmese and other refugees. Malaysia has an anti ``trafficking 
in persons'' law that provides victims with protection services 
and temporary immigration relief.
    Investigations and prosecutions should occur when credible 
and verifiable allegations are made of officials being 
complicit in trafficking in Malaysia.

    2. Now that the new Anti-trafficking law is in place, the 
Government of Malaysia should continue to develop its skills 
and capacity to identify and assist adult and child victims of 
human trafficking within its borders, and fully implement its 
response to addressing human trafficking.

    3. The flow of refugees from Burma to Thailand, Malaysia 
and other countries has cost Burma's neighbors millions of 
dollars in food and humanitarian assistance. Officials of 
impacted ASEAN countries should be intentional in measuring the 
financial cost of hosting refugees displaced from Burma, and to 
request financial compensation from Burma's military junta for 
costs incurred in caring for the refugees.

    4. ASEAN issued a ``Declaration on the Protection and 
Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers'' during the Cebu 
Summit in 2007. The U.S. and other countries should encourage 
ASEAN Member States to implement ``Commitments by ASEAN'' as 
outlined in the Declaration.

    5. The U.S. in coordination with other donor countries, 
should continue providing funds, 1) to facilitate sharing of 
information on human trafficking among authorities of Thailand 
and Malaysia; and 2) to provide technical and other assistance 
to the Governments of Malaysia and Thailand so that the 
trafficking of Burmese and other migrants may be more actively 
pursued and prosecuted.
    However, greater emphasis should be placed on evaluating 
the effectiveness of prosecutions and providing victim 
protection. Do prosecutors focus on numbers of persons 
prosecuted rather than going after key syndicate players, which 
may require greater case preparation?
    (The U.S. Embassy/Bangkok and Consulate General/Chiang Mai 
have continued to broaden and increase prevention activities in 
support of the Mission's overall anti-trafficking in persons 
(TIP) strategy. For example, the Mission has enlisted the 
support of Mrs. Eric John, wife of the U.S. Ambassador).\4\
    \4\ U.S. Embassy, Bangkok, ``Anti-Trafficking Engagement Pays 
Dividends,'' November 20, 2008.
    Thai officials assert that proceeds from human trafficking 
in southern Thailand are among illegal sources of funding 
utilized by insurgents in southern Thailand.

    6. International donors, working with appropriate Thailand 
officials, should provide funding to local community leaders 
and political activists in southern Thailand to assist in 
combating the trafficking of persons, including Burmese 
migrants, from Malaysia into southern Thailand.

    7. Malaysian officials should be encouraged to consider 
alternatives to detention for refugees and asylum seekers, 
especially for women and children.  Honoring obligations as a 
signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the 
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination 
against Women (CEDAW) would be well-received by the 
international community.
    The U.S., other countries and relevant regional and 
international institutions should specifically encourage 
Malaysia to sign the Refugees Convention, the 1967 Protocol on 
Refugees, and include this issue in human rights dialogues with 
Malaysia and with ASEAN.

    8. The Malaysian Government should be encouraged to allow 
UNHCR officials with free and unhindered access to all 
Malaysian facilities where Burmese persons and other asylum 
seekers are detained--and persons in detention claiming to be 
in need of international protection should be allowed access to 
UNHCR in order to be registered and have their claim for 
refugee status determined.

    9. Malaysian and UNHCR officials should work together 
toward the promotion of refugee protection standards.

    10. The U.S. and other donors should review the feasibility 
of providing additional funds to UNHCR so that its operational 
capacity could be increased in Malaysia, in consultation with 
the Government of Malaysia.


    Malaysia has made remarkable economic and development 
progress from the time of Japan's occupation of the Malay 
Peninsula in the 1940's to independence from Britain in 1957, 
and then confronting the Communist insurgency of the 1950's and 
early 1960's. The country has developed into a development 
showcase of international renown. Foreign investment has 
augmented the vision of former Prime Minister Mahathir bin 
Mohammed that Malaysia achieve ``developed nation'' status by 
    Foreign labor is an integral building block of Malaysia's 
upward economic mobility. While Malaysia's total workforce is 
11.3 million, there are approximately 2.08 million legal 
foreign workers.\5\ Informed sources suggest there may be an 
additional one million illegal workers, however no accurate 
information is available.
    \5\ Ministry of Human Resources, Government of Malaysia.
    The Malaysian Government has conflicted perspective 
regarding the presence of persons from other countries who are 
asylum seekers, refugees or migrant workers. In addition, 
``After 50 years of independence, Malaysia is still trying to 
consolidate the different races of citizens that make up the 
nation.'' \6\ (Indians, Chinese and Malays, or bumiputras-sons 
of the soil, are the primary racial categories in Malaysia).
    \6\ Tenaganita, ``The Revolving Door, Modern Day Slavery,'' Kuala 
Lumpur, October, 2008.
    ``The dichotomy of bumiputras and non bumiputras, of Malays 
and orang asal or asli, of citizens and migrants is dividing 
and tearing the country with intense discriminatory practices. 
The differences that existed widened when Malaysia began 
implementing its new economic policy. Its zest to ensure 
industrialization was a success and to attract foreign 
investors led to the Government providing various incentives to 
increase the country's competitiveness. One such incentive was 
the guarantee of cheap labor. Women, the reserve labor force 
were motivated to work in the new economic zones at the 
beginning of the implementation policy. Then, migrant workers 
were recruited to strengthen the infrastructure development, 
the plantation sector and fill the vacuum in the household work 
through domestic workers. After almost 30 years, Malaysia is 
very dependent on migrant labor for its economic growth.'' \7\
    \7\ Ibid.
    While Malaysia accepts the presence of Burmese and others 
from outside of the country for the purpose of contributing to 
the work force, persons identified as refugees and asylum 
seekers, on their way to a third country are viewed as threats 
to national security.
    The reports of the extortion and exploitation of Burmese 
and other migrants/refugees within Malaysia and the transfer of 
many to human traffickers in Southern Thailand have been 
previously reported from multiple Malaysian and international 
sources. However the Government of Malaysia has yet to address 
the allegations in a comprehensive, sustainable and transparent 

                              Burma Exodus

    Burmese ethnic minorities and Burmans continue to exit 
Burma. There are continuing extensive human rights abuses 
perpetuated by the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) 
and the Burmese military. ``These reports have changed little 
over the subsequent . . . years'' according to the U.S. 
Congressional Research Service (CRS).\8\ The CRS report goes on 
to state, ``Many human rights abuses reportedly are committed 
by the military against members of Burma's ethnic minorities. 
The Government negotiated cease-fire agreements with 17 ethnic 
insurgencies in the 1990s; but three groups, the Karen, Karenni 
and Shan have continued to fight. . . . ethnic groups (in 
Burma) have reportedly been subjected to forced labor, use as 
human mine sweepers and bullet shields, forced relocation, 
conscription into the army as porters or soldiers, rape, mass 
killing, extortion and denial of basic human needs.\9\
    \8\ Congressional Research Service, ``Overview of Burmese 
Refugees,'' Rhoda Margesson and Michael F. Martin, November 10, 2008.
    \9\ Ibid.
    Some insist that Burmese Government and military officials 
are involved in a dedicated effort to eliminate ethnic minority 
populations in Burma. This allegation is being examined in the 
context of a new project at The Center for Constitutional 
Democracy at the Indiana University School of Law 
(Bloomington). Legal scholars will be evaluating human rights 
abuse allegations to determine if evidence exists that 
international crimes may have been committed by Burmese 
military or civilian officials.
    Since 1988, hundreds of thousands of ethnic minorities and 
Burmans have fled to Thailand, Malaysia and India, among other 
    ``According to studies conducted by ethnic community based 
organizations (CBOs) and compiled by the Thailand Burma Border 
Consortium (TBBC), over 3,200 ethnic villages in Burma have 
been destroyed since 1996 affecting over one million people. 
Probably more than 300,000 have fled to Thailand as refugees 
(the majority being Shan and not recognized by the Thai 
Government). TBBC estimates that in 2007 there were 
conservatively still some 500,000 Internally Displaced Persons 
(IDPs) in the Eastern states and divisions of Burma bordering 
Thailand, including at least 99,000 in free-fire areas, 295,000 
in cease-fire areas (including 11,000 in Mon Resettlement 
sites), and 109,000 in relocation sites. Meanwhile, the 
population in the border refugee camps was just under 140,000 
at June 30th (2008), a slight reduction during the year due to 
departures for resettlement to third countries.'' \10\
    \10\ Thailand Burma Border Consortium Programme Report, June, 2008.

                         Extortion In Malaysia

    As noted earlier, in 2007, the committee began receiving 
disturbing reports about the detention and brokering of Burmese 
and other migrants in Malaysia and along the Thailand-Malaysia 
border, allegedly with the knowledge, if not participation, by 
some Malaysian Government officials. The prospect that Burmese 
migrants, having fled the heavy hand of the Burmese junta, only 
to find themselves in harms' way in Malaysia seemed beyond 
    Subsequent committee research efforts in the United States, 
Malaysia and Thailand, revealed similar allegations that 
Burmese migrants, detained in Malaysia, have been and continue 
to be extorted by their captors, some of whom are allegedly 
Government officials. These migrants were (are) to provide 
monetary compensation or find themselves in the hands of human 
traffickers in Malaysia or southern Thailand. A collection of 
reports suggest that a few thousand Burmese migrants have been 
taken to the Malaysia-Thailand border in recent years.
    As many of the Burmese who register with the United Nations 
High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Malaysia permanently 
resettle in the U.S., their exploitation in the forms of 
physical abuse and financial extortion enroute to the U.S. are 
matters of direct interest and concern to the U.S. Government 
and the SFRC. Since 1990, Burmese refugee admissions to the 
United States have surpassed 38,000.\11\
    \11\ U.S. Department of State, October 27, 2008

             People as a Commodity--Anatomy of a Shakedown

    While there is some variation in the methods reportedly 
used by migrant/refugee captors in Malaysia, the following 
points are common to a majority of statements received by the 
Foreign Relations Committee.

    1. Burmese migrants in Malaysia, often regardless of 
whether they possess UNHCR identification, are arrested and 
placed in detention facilities. The committee has reports of 
individual refugee UNHCR official documentation being destroyed 
by Malaysian officials at the time of arrest or later.

    2. Burmese migrants are allegedly taken from government 
detention facilities to the Malaysia-Thailand border by 
Malaysian Government officials. Reports received from NGOs such 
as Refugees International, Human Rights Watch, Christian 
Solidarity Worldwide and Tenaganita, and reports received 
directly from Burmese by the Foreign Relations Committee 
reflect a common pattern of allegations. The Malaysian 
Government officials who allegedly transport the migrants to 
the border ``witness the trafficking that takes place and may 
benefit from the fees . . . paid by the refugees to the 
traffickers. If they are unable to pay for their release, the 
refugees are sold into forced labor, most commonly on fishing 
boats.'' \12\
    \12\ Refugees International, ``Malaysia: Government Must Stop Abuse 
of Burmese Refugees and Asylum Seekers,'' May 23, 2007.
    In one interview with SFRC staff, Burmese migrants said 
they, along with others were transported to the border by 
Malaysian Government officials using Malaysian Immigration 
Department vehicles. Arriving at the border between 1:00 and 
3:00 am, they were handed over to human traffickers, operating 
from the Thai side of the border. The traffickers would then 
allow the refugees opportunity to contact someone in Malaysia 
who could pay a ransom of 1500-1900 ringgit ($470 to $600), per 
person. Those able to pay were smuggled back into Malaysia and 
released. Males, unable to pay were sold to the Thai fishing 
industry, factories, farms or plantations. Women allegedly were 
sold to brothels, hotels and into domestic servitude. The fate 
of children was unknown.\13\
    \13\ U.S. State Department report, Kuala Lumpur, September 3, 2008.
    Many of the women deported to the border area state that 
they are sexually assaulted by human traffickers.
    Regarding the deportation of refugees to Thailand in 2007, 
the U.S. Committee on Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) asserts 
that Malaysian officials ``often gave advance notice to 
traffickers who kidnapped the deportees or bought them directly 
from immigration officials.'' \14\
    \14\ U.S. Committee on Refugees and Immigrants, ``Malaysia,'' 2007 
Annual Report

    3.  Interviews with Thai police, Malaysian NGO officials 
and Burmese migrants and refugees\15\ yielded more precise 
information regarding the destination of Burmese refugees 
unable to pay once at the Malaysia-Thailand border. There were 
reports of men being directed or sold to work on Thai fishing 
boats, a shoe factory and a cast iron factory. Families were 
often separated, with women reportedly sold into the sex 
industry or for domestic help. There was no available 
documentation regarding the fate of children.
    \15\ Interviews with Burmese refugees in Malaysia and in Fort Wayne 
and Indianapolis, Indiana.

    4.  In a recently released book, ``The Revolving Door,'' 
the Malaysian NGO, Tenaganita, ``exposes the abuse, the endemic 
corruption and the trafficking'' of adults and children in 
Malaysia and at the Malaysia-Thailand border, many of whom are 
refugees. Included among the various testimonies is the account 
of one elderly refugee man who lost his wife and children to 
traffickers along the border because of his inability to pay 
for their release.\16\
    \16\ Tenaganita, ``The Revolving Door,'' Kuala Lumpur, 2008

    The majority of testimonies directly received by the 
Foreign Relations Committee indicate that these persons were 
taken from Malaysian detention facilities to the Malaysia side 
of the border near Thailand. (Some migrants informed the 
committee of being whipped or beaten while in detention.)
    Often the destination was an area in the vicinity of the 
Thai border city of Sungai Golok, bordering Malaysia's state of 
Kelantan. Another destination is reportedly the border city of 
Padang Besar in Malaysia's Perlis state.
    Travelling to Sungai Golok to meet with Thai police, 
committee staff learned that Thai police currently have active 
court cases pending, involving the prosecution of at least 
three alleged human traffickers. In 2005, Thai police raided a 
jungle compound operated by human traffickers which contained 
37 Burmese and 2 Pakistani migrants.
    Knowing that eventual arrest and extortion are likely 
realities, many Burmese migrants in Malaysia pool their 
financial resources, so that they are prepared to respond to 
individual demands for paid freedom.
    Burmese migrants are not always transported to the 
Malaysia-Thailand border for payment arrangements to obtain 
their release. There are reports that freedom from detention 
can come by paying Malaysian officials where they are detained. 
One Burmese refugee, now resettled in Indiana, cited eight 
occasions from May, 2001 to September 10, 2006, when payment 
was made for their release from detention. The fee ranged from 
50 ringgit on December 24, 2002, to 800 ringgit on August 15 of 
    Reports have been received of refugees being beaten if they 
are unable to arrange payment. The committee also received a 
report of two refugees being shot and killed at a border 
location in August of 2008, allegedly for inability to pay 
ransom demands.

                      In the Words of the Refugees

    The committee has received several reports from Burmese 
refugees who were allegedly trafficked by or with the knowledge 
of Malaysian officials while in Malaysia. Their stories are 
similar to the pattern of reports outlined earlier in this 
report, ``People as a Commodity: Anatomy of a Shakedown.''

    Samples of the reports in the possession of the committee 

Victim No. 1

          Paid 1800 Ringgit (approximately $490) for his 
        freedom. He also reports that Burmese women refugees 
        ``are sold at a brothel if they look good. If they are 
        not beautiful, they might sell them at a restaurant or 
        house-keeping job'' (in Thailand).
          This victim also states: ``. . . we, (about 40 to 45 
        people), were taken in a Malaysian Immigration bus from 
        [deleted] Camp to the Thailand border. After 10 hours, 
        we arrived at the Thai border. We knew that Malaysian 
        Immigration officials and Thai agents already discussed 
        that we would be taken there. The Thai agents wanted us 
        to arrive at the Thai border after dark, because they 
        didn't want the Thai police to know what they were 
          The victim adds: ``We arrived at the Thai border at 
        midnight. They asked us to go into a small boat and the 
        Thai agents took us to Thailand. We were in small huts 
        for days. If we had money we could return to Kuala 
        Lumpur right away. But I didn't' have money and they 
        (the Thai agents), asked me to contact my friends who 
        lived in Kuala Lumpur. My friends helped me to return 
        to Kuala Lumpur. They paid 1800 Ringgit (approximately 
        $490) to [deleted].'' (2008)

Victim No. 2

          Reports that he was part of a group of refugees taken 
        to the Thailand border by Malaysian Immigration and 
        RELA officials during one trip. After being released, 
        he was arrested for a second time, and again taken to 
        the border. He paid a total of 3000 Ringgit 
        (approximately $820) for release on two occasions.
          The victim states: ``When we arrived at the Thai 
        border, it was already dark. The Thai agents were 
        already there when we arrived at the border river bank. 
        The agents took us to Thailand by boat. The city we 
        arrived in was [deleted]. We were there for about a 
        week. The Thai agent gave us very bad meals, they fed 
        us twice a day. They asked us to contact our friends 
        and family who live in Kuala Lumpur. My friend sent 
        1500 Ringgit (approximately $400), to Hah Cai (Hat Yai) 
        from Kuala Lumpur by [deleted] Bank. After they 
        received the money I was sent back to Kuala Lumpur. 
        After a week I was arrested again and sent to the Thai 
        border again.'' (2005)

Victim No. 3

          ``The (Malaysian) police and Immigration personnel 
        asked us to get onto the bus. Then the bus left the 
        [deleted] Camp around 11:00 am. After driving about 3 
        hours, we stopped at a small town and another 15 
        refugees were forced to get onto our bus. All of us 
        were about 55 people and very crowded. Then the bus 
        rushed to the border. We passed through many mountains 
        and valleys. Finally, around 11:00 pm, we arrived at 
        the river, and our bus stopped. There was a boat on the 
        bank and we were forced to get into the boat. We 
        crossed the river and arrived at the town called Sungai 
        Golok. The Thai agents were waiting for us. They knew 
        my name already, because my friend who lived in Kuala 
        Lumpur had given them ransom money. The Thai agent sent 
        me back to Kuala Lumpur. My friend gave the ransom 
        money to [deleted].'' (2006)

Victim No. 4

          ``About 3 am they asked us to get up from bed. They 
        gave us a good breakfast unlike other days. They told 
        us that we would be sent to the Thai border. They asked 
        us to give a promise that we were not going to come 
        back to Malaysia. Then, about 6 am they sent us to the 
        Thai border. We arrived at the ...town called Rantau 
        Panjang about 9 pm. We were forced to take the boat 
        (across the river) and deported to the Thai town called 
        Sungai Golok. I was taken by the man name(d) [deleted]. 
        He was working for the rich man, who [deleted]. I was 
        with Mr. [deleted] for 2 days. My friends sent Mr. 
        [deleted] by [deleted] . . .'' (2003)

Victim No. 5

          Returned to Kuala Lumpur from the Thailand-Malaysia 
        border after arranging payment of 1600 Ringgit 
        (approximately $440). The victim was advised that 
        inability to pay would result in his being ``sold to 
        another Thai agent to work in the sea as a fisherman 
        without pay.'' (2007)

Victim No. 6

          Reports he was taken by ``Immigration officers of 
        Malaysia,'' from [deleted] camp to Sungai Golok and 
        paid $1600 Ringgit (approximately $440). (2006)

Victim No. 7

          ``We left [deleted] camp around 5:00 pm, then we 
        arrived at Sungai Golok around 2:00 am. After crossing 
        the Sungai Golok River, we arrived at Thai territory. 
        The Thai agent already knew about our arriving because 
        our friends who lived in Kuala Lumpur had already paid 
        the ransom money at [deleted]. The Thai agents took 
        care of us that night. Then, the next day we returned 
        to Kuala Lumpur.'' (2006)

Victim No. 8

          Reports that he was arrested and sent to the 
        Malaysia-Thailand border on three occasions. ``On the 
        third time, I was sold to Thai fishermen for 30,000 
        Baht (approximately $750). While we were waiting for 
        the Thai fishing ship [deleted] one of the [deleted] 
        found me and ransomed me.'' (2005)

Victim No. 9

          Reports paying 1600 Ringgit (approximately $440) for 
        return to Kuala Lumpur after being taken to the 
        Thailand-Malaysia border. (2006)

    Separate from the work of the Senate Foreign Relations 
Committee, Human Rights Watch reports that ``Testimonies from 
migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers deported from Malaysia 
to the Thai border indicate collusion between Malaysian 
immigration officials and human smuggling gangs who charge 
steep fees to facilitate deportees' return to Malaysia or back 
to Burma.'' \17\
    \17\ Human Rights Watch, January 2009 Malaysia Country Summary.

        An Overview of Malaysia, Refugees and the Role of UNHCR

    Malaysia is not among the 147 nation states that have 
acceded to one or both of The 1951 Refugee Convention\18\ or 
the 1967 Protocol on Refugees. Article I of the Convention 
defines a refugee as: ``A person who is outside his or her 
country of nationality or habitual residence; has a well-
founded fear of persecution because of his or her race, 
religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group 
or political opinion; and is unable or unwilling to avail 
himself or herself of the protection of that country, or to 
return there, for fear of persecution.''
    \18\ ``The 1951 Refugee Convention,'' UNHCR, September, 2007.
    For the purpose of this report, it is important to 
delineate between ``refugees'' and ``economic migrants.'' 
According to the UNHCR: ``economic migrants normally leave 
their country voluntarily to seek a better life. If they choose 
to return home they will continue to receive the protection of 
their Government. Refugees flee because of the threat of 
persecution and cannot return safely to their homes unless 
there is a fundamental shift in the situation (for example a 
durable peace agreement or change of government).''
    Malaysia has a challenging task of attempting to control 
its porous borders. Government officials view migrants/
refugees, whether from Burma, Indonesia, the Philippines, or 
elsewhere as threats to national security and often do not 
distinguish between refugees, asylum seekers and illegal 
    \19\ Refugees International, ``Malaysia: Government Must Stop Abuse 
of Burmese Refugees and Asylum Seekers,'' May 23, 2007
    `` . . . (Malaysia) does not formally recognize people as 
refugees; it considers individuals who have entered the country 
without the required travel documents as illegal immigrants. . 
. . in Malaysia (they) are subject to various penalties, 
including caning (up to six strokes), fines (up to $2,600) and 
five years in prison. Illegal immigrants may also be detained 
and deported. However, under Malaysia's Immigrant Law, an 
illegal immigrant may be allowed to temporarily reside in 
Malaysia by the issuance of a IMM 13 visa. In addition, some 
illegal immigrants are allowed to seek employment while in 
Malaysia.'' \20\
    \20\ Congressional Research Service, ``Bosnian and Cambodian 
Refugees in Malaysia,'' Michael F. Martin, October 16, 2008.
    To the credit of the Malaysian Government, the UNHCR has 
been allowed to carry out protection and assistance activities 
in Malaysia since 1975, when the Vietnamese boat people began 
arriving. ``UNHCR assisted Malaysia in hosting close to 275,000 
boat people over two decades before durable solutions were 
found for them.'' \21\
    \21\ ``UNHCR in Malaysia,'' UNHCR Website, November, 2008.
    In addition, it is important to note the Malaysian 
Government's ongoing cooperation with UNHCR and the large U.S. 
refugee resettlement program, processing over 4,000 Burmese 
resettlement cases annually. The cooperation by the Malaysian 
Government enables UNHCR to carry out its mandate and allows 
operation of the U.S. resettlement program.
    The long-term level of cooperation extended by Malaysian 
authorities has varied. During a March, 2005 crackdown in 
Malaysia against illegal migrants, UNHCR officials were 
concerned ``that refugees and people of concern to us could get 
caught up in the crackdown.'' \22\ Nearly half a million 
Malaysian enforcement officials and RELA personnel spread 
throughout Malaysia in small groups to round up an estimated 
400,000 illegal workers and their employers. At that time, 
UNHCR officials were sometimes called to locations where RELA 
carried out raids, so as to identify those of concern to 
    \22\ UNHCR, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
    \23\ Ibid.
    More recently, in 2008, top officials of the Malaysian 
Immigration Service denied UNHCR with full access to all 
detention facilities in Malaysia. During an interview with 
Immigration officials, committee staff were informed that UNHCR 
officials could now visit detention facilities throughout 
Malaysia, however would not be guaranteed full access in each 
of the facilities.\24\
    \24\ SFRC staff meeting with Malaysian Immigration officials, 
August 29, 2008.
    ``In Malaysia, there are no legislative or administrative 
provisions dealing with the right to seek asylum or the 
protection of refugees. Since the Malaysian Government takes no 
direct role in the reception, registration, documentation, and 
status determination of asylum-seekers and refugees, nor in 
respect of their assistance, welfare, and basic human standard 
needs, UNHCR is required to perform almost all functions which 
would otherwise rest wit the State, including all registration, 
documentation, and RSD-related activities directly under its 
mandate. In addition, since refugees and asylum-seekers face a 
wide array of protection problems in Malaysia and are formally 
penalized for illegal entry and in principle subject to arrest, 
detention, caning, deportation and possible refoulement, UNHCR 
continues its protection intervention efforts, including in 
detention and the courts.'' \25\
    \25\ Congressional Research Service, Rhoda Margesson, October, 
    Since 2002, UNHCR in Malaysia has registered approximately 
57,000 individuals from Burma, among whom the majority have 
been ethnic Chin (approximately 25,000), and Rohingya Muslim 
(approximately 16,000), with the remainder among the other 
ethnic minorities from Burma, including Arakanese, Kachin, 
Karen, Mon, Shan, and Burmese Muslims. Some refugees are 
Burman, as well. ``As of January this year, there were some 
43,000 persons of concern registered with UNHCR in Malaysia, 
including some 27,000 from ethnic minority groups in Burma.'' 
\26\ These numbers do not reflect the thousands of Burmese 
refugees in Malaysia not yet registered with UNHCR (as many as 
30,000 or more),\27\ who are detained by Malaysian officials, 
or are hiding in discreet jungle or urban locations attempting 
to avoid the wrath of Ikatan Relawan Rakyat Malaysia (RELA), a 
volunteer citizens force of up to one-half million individuals 
charged with identifying and arresting persons in Malaysia with 
no legal status. In addition to receiving a small monthly 
stipend, RELA members have in the past reportedly received a 
bounty payment for each illegal migrant arrested. The Migrant 
and Refugee Working Group of the Malaysian Bar Council's Human 
Rights Committee says that `` . . . an average of 700 to 800 
UNHCR-recognized refugees remain in detention each month, 
including about 100 children.'' \28\
    \26\ UNHCR News, March 23, 2008.
    \27\ Congressional Research Service, Rhoda Margesson, October, 
    \28\ Irrawaddy, ``Malaysian Immigration Giving Refugees to 
Traffickers, Say Activists,'' August 3, 2008.
    ``According to Malaysia's Home Ministry, the role of RELA, 
which dates back to 1972, is `to help maintain security in the 
country and the well being of the people.' It is used as the 
eyes and ears of the Government, to collect information for 
Government agencies such as the police, customs, and 
immigration on threats to security, to do security patrolling 
to prevent crime, and, when necessary, to carry out citizens' 
arrests. The 2005 amendment ceded more power to RELA by 
permitting it, `where it has reasonable belief that any person 
is a terrorist, undesirable person, illegal immigrant or an 
occupier, to stop that person in order to make all such 
inquiries or to require the production of all such documents or 
other things as the competent authority may consider 
necessary.'' \29\
    \29\ Human Rights Watch, ``Malaysia: Disband Abusive Volunteer 
Corps,'' May 9, 2007.
     ``. . . the 2005 amendment to Malaysia's Essential 
Regulations, part of Malaysia's security legislation, RELA is 
allowed to arrest an individual or enter and search any 
premises, public or private, without a search or arrest 
warrant. The amendment also gives RELA volunteers the right to 
bear and use firearms, and to demand documents. The 2005 
amendment also gives effective legal immunity to RELA 
volunteers.'' \30\
    \30\ Ibid.
    UNHCR's registration of Burmese asylum-seekers surged after 
the Malaysian Immigration Act was amended in 2002 to impose 
stiffer penalties on undocumented persons. The Malaysian 
Immigration Act does not delineate between a refugee and an 
    Refugees and other persons detained for not having proper 
Malaysian Government immigration documents are not always taken 
to court; often times, they are handled administratively under 
the Immigration Act without court action. Thus, there are cases 
in which detained refugees do not appear before a judge.

                      Making One's Way to Malaysia

    The majority of Burmese migrants enter Malaysia from 
Thailand. One NGO estimated that perhaps 5% of the migrants 
make their way to Thailand from Burma by boat, a perilous 
journey. In December of 2007, a boat reportedly carrying nearly 
100 Chin migrants from Burma, heading to Malaysia, capsized in 
the sea of with 45 men, women and children losing their lives.
    ``On November 25, 2007, a trawler and two ferry boats 
carrying some 240 Rohingyas being smuggled to Malaysia sank in 
the Bay of Bengal. About 80 survived, the rest drowned. A week 
later, another boat sank, allegedly fired at by the Burmese 
Navy. 150 are believed to have perished. On March 3, 2008, the 
Sri Lankan Navy rescued 71 passengers, most of them Rohingya, 
from a boat that had drifted 22 days in the Indian Ocean with a 
broken engine. Twenty had died from starvation and 
dehydration.'' \31\
    \31\ Forced Migration Review, ``Asia's New Boat People,'' Chris 
Lewa, April, 2008.
    The prospects of employment in Malaysia, while enduring the 
UNHCR relocation process and risking the possibility of arrest 
by Malaysian officials, presents a worthwhile basis for braving 
travel to Malaysia, in the minds of many Burmese migrants.

                          Refugees Not Welcome

    Malaysia's tough anti-refugee policies are enforced through 
arrest by RELA personnel, incarceration, and punishment which 
may include caning. ``Barely surviving in jungle camps or urban 
flats in cramped conditions with poor sanitation, no health 
care and little food, they are at grave risk of being raided by 
the Malaysian immigration authorities, police and the 
officially-sanctioned RELA. If arrested, the Burmese refugees 
face appalling conditions in detention, caning, beatings and 
other forms of abuse . . . Women and children, including 
pregnant women, have been detained and mistreated.'' \32\
    \32\ Christian Solidarity Worldwide, ``Burma Briefing: Visit to the 
Thailand-Burma Border and Malaysia,'' February, 2008.
    ``Because the Malaysia Government has refused to grant 
legal recognition to Burmese refugees, a terrible consequence 
is that Burmese children are not permitted to attend school and 
many are denied health care.'' \33\
    \33\ Tenaganita, ``The Revolving Door,'' Modern Day Slavery 
Refugees, p. 35, 2008.
    Hundreds of Burmese migrants survive in six or more jungle 
locations, where they hope to avoid RELA raids and arrest until 
their resettlement to another country is approved. The top 
medical challenges confronting these refugees are tuberculosis, 
HIV/AIDS, renal failure and ulcers/gastritis.

               A Remote and Dangerous Area--Disappearing 
                 Over the Border Into southern Thailand

    The Thailand-Malaysia border is a remote division between 
the two countries. The border is a meandering asset to Thai 
insurgents, human traffickers, druglords and others whose 
activities pose a direct threat to Malaysia and Thailand law 
enforcement officials.
    Thai Immigration police, citing the dangerous area, 
declined a staff request to visit a jungle location which was 
the site of an earlier raid where nearly 40 Burmese migrants 
had been held by traffickers. In the week prior to the staff 
visit to Thai Immigration Police in Sungai Golok, vehicle bombs 
were detonated on the street adjacent to their office, killing 
and wounding persons nearby. The untamed jungle provides 
helpful cover for human trafficking syndicate operations and 
poses a major challenge to any law enforcement effort.
    Due to the remoteness of the border area, it is not 
possible to accurately report the eventual plight of women and 
especially children who become the property of southern 
Thailand or northern Malaysia trafficking agents.
    Multiple reports suggest that Burmese men are trafficked to 
owners of fishing vessels in Thailand's waters, and to 
factories. The estimated percentage of the Burmese that never 
return to Malaysia from Thailand runs as high as ten percent of 
the Burmese migrants transferred to traffickers along the 
border when transported there from Malaysian Government 
detention facilities.
    As Thailand officials view human remains discovered in 
southern Thailand, effort is being made to identify those of 
Burmese origin.

                       A Call for the End of RELA

    In March of 2007, the Malaysian Bar Association called for 
the end of RELA. ``There have been allegations of torture and 
even the causing of death by volunteer RELA personnel, who also 
received payment for each undocumented migrant they managed to 
catch.'' \35\
    \35\ Migrant Forum in Asia, ``Lawyers Unanimous in Call for the 
Demise of RELA and the Usage of Only Professional Law Enforcement 
Personnel in Malaysia,'' Charles Hector, March 18, 2007.
    ``The Bar's Resolution called for the repeal of the 
Emergency Act of 1979 and all Regulations and Rules made there 
under, in particular Essential (Ikatan RELAwan Rakyat) 
Regulations 1966 (P.U. 33/1966), as amended by the Essential 
(Ikatan RELAwan Rakyat) (Amendment) Regulations 2005, also for 
the employment and usage of only properly trained professional 
law enforcement personnel in Malaysia as opposed to the RELA 
volunteers.'' \36\ The Resolution also called for inquests into 
the deaths of persons who allegedly died as a result of RELA 
    \36\ Ibid.

    In addition, the Malaysian Bar:

   asked that all persons including undocumented migrants and/
        or refugees be treated humanely and accorded equal 
        protection of the law;

   stated that ``Malaysia, who is a party to the April 1999 
        Bangkok Declaration on Irregular Migration,'' which 
        clearly states ``Irregular (undocumented) migrants 
        should be granted humanitarian treatment, including 
        appropriate health and other services, while the cases 
        of irregular migration are being handled, according to 
        law. Any unfair treatment toward them should be avoided 
        . . . . (Malaysia) must adhere to its commitments.

   called on the Malaysian Government ``to immediately ratify 
        the International Convention on the Protection of the 
        Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their 
        Families and also the Convention against Torture and 
        Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or 
        Punishment.'' \37\
    \37\ The 61st Annual General Meeting of the Malaysian Bar held in 
Kuala Lumpur, March, 2007.


    The committee continues to receive information regarding 
the alleged extortion and trafficking of Burmese and other 
migrants, while in Malaysia, along the Malaysia-Thailand 
border, and into Thailand.
    The calculation that a few thousand Burmese migrants in 
recent years have been victims of extortion and trafficking in 
Malaysia, along the Malaysia-Thailand border and in southern 
Thailand raises questions about the level of participation 
related to these activities by Government officials in both 
countries. This is the first of three reports.


    The following contributed in some way to the preparation of 
this report, or continue to assist the committee with this 
ongoing project.

By Government:

  Interpol, Washington, D.C.
  The Embassy of Malaysia, Washington, D.C.
  The Embassy of Thailand, Washington, D.C.
  The Embassy of the United States, Malaysia
  The Embassy of the United States, Thailand
  The Foreign Ministry of Malaysia
  The Foreign Ministry of Thailand
  The Home Ministry of Malaysia
  The Immigration Department of Malaysia
  The Immigration Police of Thailand
  The U.S. Congressional Research Service
  The U.S. Department of State
  The U.S. Department of Justice

By Organization:

  Amnesty International, Washington, D.C.
  Association of Southeast Asian Nations
  Center for Constitutional Democracy, Indiana University 
        School of Law (Bloomington)
  Chin Human Rights Organization
  Christian Solidarity Worldwide, London
  Human Rights Watch, New York
  Institute for Asian Democracy, Washington, D.C.
  Open Society Policy Center, Washington, D.C.
  Project Maje, Portland, Oregon
  Refugees International, Washington, D.C.
  Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram), Malaysia
  The Migration Working Group, Kuala Lumpur
  The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
  Tenaganita SDH BHD, Kuala Lumpur
  The Arakan Project, Thailand
  United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

Individuals in addition to persons affiliated with Governments and 
        Organizations listed above:

  Mr. Jay Branegan, Senate Foreign Relations Committee
  Ms. Susan Brouillette, Senator Lugar's Office, Indianapolis, 
  Ms. Aegile Fernandez, Coordinator, Anti-Trafficking in 
        Persons, Tenaganita SDN BHD, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
  Ms. Cathy Gallmeyer, Senator Lugar's Office, Fort Wayne, 
  Mr. Fred Gilbert, M.A., Social Worker, Fort Wayne, Indiana
  Ms. Cherrica Li, Senate Foreign Relations Committee
  Ms. Min Min Htwe Nge (Minn Myint Nam Tin), Fort Wayne, 
  Ms. Alice Nah, Co-Coordinator, Migration Working Group, 
  Dr. Khunying Porntip Rojanasunan, Director-General, Central 
        Institute of Forensic Science, Ministry of Justice, 
  Ms. Sarah Overshiner, Senate Foreign Relations Committee
  Mr. Eric Paulsen, Independent Human Rights Activist/
        Researcher, Malaysia
  Ms. Elaine Pearson, Human Rights Watch, New York City
  Dr. Bridget Welsh, Associate Professor, Southeast Asia 
        Studies, Johns Hopkins University--SAIS

    There are dozens of other individuals who contributed to 
this report, including Burmese refugees in Malaysia and the 
United States, who requested anonymity for personal safety