Human trafficking threatens not only individuals, but also foundational values of society — Caritas Sibu
BETWEEN 15th century and 19th century, it was estimated that about 13 million people had been captured and sold as slaves.
This practice still exists, but in its modern-day form – human trafficking.
It is estimated that today, over 40 million people are victims of human trafficking, according to data from United Nations’ International Labour Organisation (ILO) and Walk Free Foundation.
It is undeniable that human trafficking exists in almost every corner of the world, including Malaysia.
In this regard, Caritas Sibu has decided to highlight ‘Safe Migration and Anti-Human Trafficking’ as its main focus towards raising the awareness and enhancing the understanding of human trafficking among members of the public.
The Sibu chapter is under the umbrella of Caritas Malaysia – an extension of Caritas International, which is a confederation of 165 Catholic relief, development and social services organisations operating in over 200 countries and territories.
This movement, which has been around for 124 years and is headquartered in Rome, derives its name from the Latin word that means ‘love and compassion’.
Caritas Sibu was established in November last year, shortly after the virtual launch of Caritas Malaysia.
Apart from take ‘Safe Migration and Anti-Human Trafficking’, the other thematic areas in focus are ‘Environmental Justice and Climate Change’, ‘Spiritual Enhancement and Interfaith Dialogue’, ‘Advocacy and Communications’, ‘Institutional Development and Capacity Strengthening’, and ‘Emergency Response and Disaster Risk Reduction’.
Collectively and individually, Caritas’ core mission is working towards ‘building a better world, especially for the poor and oppressed communities’.
According to Caritas Sibu director Eta Ting, there is a great need for human trafficking to be accorded focus because it is considered a heinous crime against humanity.
“The Catholic Church leader Pope Francis has stressed that human trafficking is a crime against humanity – one that has become more aggressive than ever, threatening not only the individuals, but also the foundational values of society.
“It is a crime that should be greatly admonished as it taints human dignity – no one must ever take advantage of another person and exploit them,” she told thesundaypost.
Ting, who has been actively involved in creating awareness of human trafficking issues over the last four years, said she first learned about human trafficking through her earlier involvement in the One-Stop Crisis Centre.
“I began to understand the subject better after watching documentary films and reading stories about the victims who later became advocates of championing the fight against human trafficking.
“I also learned about how some traffickers would use drugs to control the victims; they would even beat them violently; manipulate or brainwash the victims to make them fear and become severely dependent on the traffickers,” she said.
Through this eye-opening information, she decided to gather the inter-religious communities and work together with Sibu Resident’s Office and the relevant government agencies to declare war against human trafficking.
Ting said under Caritas Sibu, one of the projects that she hoped to be realised would be a shelter home for the female victims of human trafficking, as well as exploited workers.
Once established, such facility could be the first of its kind in Sarawak, she added.
“For now, I cannot reveal the location set for this shelter home – it is confidential.
“However, I can tell you that Caritas Malaysia knows that Caritas Sibu is focusing on this area.
“We are still a very new organisation, and we are trying to collaborate with the relevant governmental agencies in this project.
“Despite the current Covid-19 pandemic, we are hopeful that such smart partnership with the committee of Atipsom Sibu and the other governmental agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) would benefit everyone,” she said.
Atipsom refers to Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants Act 2007.
The national-level Atipsom Council involves five government agencies – the Royal Malaysia Police (PDRM), Royal Malaysian Customs, Immigration Department, Labour Department, and Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA).
Back on the shelter home, Ting said a team needed to be formed to ensure that the operations would run smoothly in providing a safe place for the victims.
Programmes and modules needed to be drafted so that the victims housed at the shelter home could receive training and therapies before they could return home and work in society.
“We would need professional people to come in, either on salary basis or as volunteers,” she added.
Ting also pointed out Caritas had its own standard operating procedures (SOP), in that every volunteer and full-time staff member must undergo background vetting.
“This is to safeguard not only the victims, but also the staff and the volunteers themselves, in ensuring that no one is being taken advantage of,” she said, adding that Caritas Sibu would collaborate with Atipsom Sibu in programmes meant to raise better public awareness of human trafficking issues.
Ting, who is also the vice-chairperson of Atipsom Sibu, observed that the public in Sibu seemed to not care much for this ‘modern-day slavery’ issue in Sarawak.
“It appears that they think this modern-day slavery is such a far-fetched idea; one that would never happen in their backyard.
“Actually, human trafficking is a reality in Sarawak – there are people being smuggled in and out.
“There are those who are aware of such activity, but they think it’s not their business to interfere; they even refuse to talk about it out of the fear that the human-traffickers may be out to harm them.
“As upsetting as it is, this is where we, Atipsom and Caritas Sibu come in – to declare war against human trafficking and the smuggling of migrants into Sibu and beyond too,” she said.
According to Ting, the primary goal is to make people understand and aware that prevention is better than cure.
“We want to create a strong awareness among Sarawakians, so that they would not be easily lured, tricked or cheated into accepting dubious overseas jobs, thinking that they would be paid handsomely,” she underlined.
Initiatives by ministry meant to protect victims of human trafficking
Recently, the Ministry of Women and Family Malaysia had announced five new initiatives meant to protect and look after the welfare of human trafficking victims.
According to the ministry’s strategic Planning and Policy Division, Women’s Policy and Gender Unit assistant secretary Ajanis Ba’i, these initiatives would be outlined for implementation this year.
“They cover a training module for protection officers, the creation of an intervention model in shelters, and amplification of communication services for the victims and families.
“Other initiatives would include allowing mothers and children who have been rescued together to be housed in the same shelter, versus the previous arrangement where only children under the age of 12 could be placed in the same shelter with the mothers.
“In addition, plans are underway to create shelters in Sarawak,” said Ajanis during a talk-show segment aired on Bernama Radio in Kuala Lumpur on May 11 this year.
These initiatives, she said, would serve as continuations from what the ministry had implemented last year.
For the record, the Ministry of Women and Family Malaysia heads the Human Trafficking Victims Care and Protection Committee in the Council for Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants (Atipsom).
Adding on, Ajanis said among the initiatives implemented last year were coordinating guidelines related to protection with enforcement, allowing victims housed in shelters to wear their own clothes and separating the victims based on interim protection orders and protection orders at separate shelters.
In helping human trafficking victims, Ajanis said the ministry had always endeavoured to provide the best services based on a ‘victim-centric approach’, focusing on the needs and well-being of the victims; and a ‘trauma-informed approach’, taking into consideration the psychological and emotional condition of the victims.
“In short, it takes into consideration (the aspects of) safety, reliability and transparency, support, empowerment and choice, and also a culture that stresses on agreement with the victims.
“Matters linked to the victims must be to the knowledge and consent of the victims themselves,’’ she said.
According to Ajanis, the ministry provides several intervention services and programmes for victims of human trafficking, including free health and treatment services, counselling, legal and court services, as well as permission to work for those who pass all the set conditions.
“The ministry also cooperates with various non-government organisations (NGOs) to protect and look after the welfare of human trafficking victims involving medical, counselling and interpreter services.
“I wish to stress that the crime of human trafficking is an issue that transcends the responsibility of various quarters – be they from the government, the private sector, the NGOs or anybody out there.
“As such, the concept of ‘whole of nation, whole of government and whole of society’, must be appreciated together. The ministry is committed to the care and protection of human trafficking victims because it involves a praiseworthy effort in looking after the welfare of the victims and ensuring that our country is seen as being efficient in combating human trafficking,” stressed Ajanis.