This year, One Body Village officially opened its new operation in Malaysia. OBV will not only provide rescue and rehabilitation programs to sexually exploited children, but it will also help repatriate any Vietnamese people who are enslaved in an endless cycle of forced labour, coercion, debt bondage, and displacement in Malaysia. OBV will provide them with translation services, court assistance, documentation, airfare, and vocational training in order to reintegrate successfully back in their home country.
Malaysia is a beautiful country that boasts a bubbling melting pot of races and religions where Malays, Indians, Chinese, and many other ethnic groups live together in peace and harmony. Its multiculturalism has made it a gastronomical paradise, while its rugged mountains, scenic highland hideaways, and warm, sandy beaches attract locals and tourists alike. Though breathtaking, many sources say that complicity amongst Malaysian government officials and police and multi-level corruption has made Malaysia both a destination and source country for men, women, and children to be subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. In 2014, the US State Department demoted Malaysia to the worstranking in its Trafficking in Persons Report for not fully complying with the minimum standards to combat human trafficking and not making significant efforts to do so. The overwhelming majority of trafficking victims are among the estimated two million documented and two million or more undocumented foreign workers in Malaysia.
Foreign workers typically migrate willingly to Malaysia from other countries in Asia, primarily Indonesia, Bangledesh, the Philippines, Nepal, Burma, Cambodia, Vietnam, India, Thailand, and Laos - in search of greater economic opportunities. They seek employment in plantations, construction sites, textile factories, and as domestic workers but subsequently encounter forced labour or debt bondage at the hands of their employers, employment agents, or informal labour recruiters1. Also, a significant number of young foreign women are recruited ostensibly for legal work in Malaysian restaurants, hotels, and beauty salons, but are later coerced into the commercial sex trade. Some Vietnamese women and girls also enter into brokered marriages in Malaysia and are then forced into prostitution. To add insult to injury, the Malaysian government treats victims of trafficking as illegal aliens and turns them over to immigration authorities for deportation and does not make available any alternatives to repatriation for these victims who may face harm or retribution upon return to their home country1. Such is why OBV's presence in Malaysia is much needed.
In Kuala Lumpur, I was graced to spend an afternoon with (illegal) Vietnamese workers at church. These young workers, both men and women, fled north and middle Vietnam in search of economic relief and often left their children behind in the hands of grandparents. They described to me how they dreaded the poor living conditions in Vietnam and how they hated the corrupt Vietnamese government and police. In Malaysia, working in textile factories earned them approximately $600 RM (approximately $200 USD) per month, while working labour jobs in Vietnam earned them $50 USD per month. They entered Malaysia on a visitor's visa that expired after 30 days. To stay illegally and indefinitely, the workers would pay corrupt immigration personnel $150 RM every month to stamp their passports. For the workers who could not afford to do so, they risk imprisonment every single day that they continue to work in Malaysia. They also forfeit ever returning to their home country, because they do not have proper travel documentation. Once arrested by police, they are thrown in jail for six to eight months and released back on the street to work illegally again. Unlike its neighbor of Singapore, Malaysia does not pay for an illegal migrant's deportation. If deported, these people would face further exploitation, harm, and punishment should the (crooked) Vietnamese government pay for their deportation fees.
I met Ngoc, who left Hanoi with her husband to work in a refrigerator factory in Kuala Lumpur. She left her autistic son with her parents back in Vietnam. She struggles daily to support herself, her husband, her parents and child. She lives in a small house with seven other workers with limited privacy and comfort. Her infectious smile and bubbly personality warms my heart. She reminds me of my mom, who sacrificed education to work three housekeeping jobs, every day for 30 years, to raise my brother and I in Canada. My mother also did so with the same smile on her face.
I could not imagine leaving my country, my home, my family, my people, and my culture to live every day in fear in a foreign country that does not accept me. What is a nightmare to me is the harsh and grim reality for these people. I commend their sacrifice, their courage, their perseverance, and their endurance of unrelenting hardship in the name of survival and family. I can understand their decision to leave Vietnam, because I have been to the very poor villages from which they have escaped. Life in Malaysia is far from paradise, but it certainly is better than what they left behind. These people have all of my empathy and above all, my admiration.