I first expressed interest in the issue by writing about it back in August, shortly after spending time in the region. I noticed the common sight of Filipino women frequenting Malaysian bars, something I observed perpetuated stereotypes and ignited prejudice against immigrants from the nearby islands of the Philippines. Since then I’ve done significantly more research (as required of a full time graduate student :)), here is my executive summary:
Malaysian policies to combat human trafficking and illegal immigration have been paradoxically harsh yet ineffective. In the years 2007 and 2009, the U.S. Annual Trafficking in Persons reports (TIP) placed Malaysia in the condemned “Tier 3” category, along with only 16 other countries worldwide. It was reclassified to the “Tier 2 Watch List,” in June of 2010, and currently remains in this category (U.S. State Department).
Thus far, the state of Sabah, Malaysia, has dealt with these issues by enhancing security patrols and improving maritime surveillance. However, human trafficking has steadily expanded to be a global multi billion dollar industry, and these expansions in security forces and increased global migration have demonstrated contribution to the corruption of state officials (Stanslas, 604).
While the scale of illegal immigration from other Southeastern Asian countries and the Indian Subcontinent are of concern, Sabah’s close geographic proximity to the southern Philippines prioritizes Filipino immigrants. Joint claims to the territory of Sabah preempt assertions that historical state “blurrings,” between the two makes migration to Sabah distinguishable from any other labor migration in the world (Hilsdon, 407).
This paper suggests three policy proposals to the Malaysian government in decreasing human trafficking. The ultimate goals are being removed from the Tier 2 Watch List, increasing Philippine government accountability for their perpetuation of overseas workers, and maintaining respect for Sabah’s status as a special political region by some variation of continued autonomy over its immigration controls.
The three policy recommendations for the Malaysian government divide as follows: a continuation of joint surveillance of Sabah’s shores by both federal and local forces, allocating surveillance solely to the local jurisdiction of the state of Sabah, and federalizing the problem to peninsular jurisdiction.
This paper will make a final recommendation of federalizing the problem and minimizing local jurisdiction. The issue demonstrably transcends local Sabahan capabilities and scope of effective control. Amidst repeated calls for the creation of a panel on anti-trafficking, the state of Sabah has not taken appropriate action and instead exacerbates the problem by perpetuating immigration policies perceived as “lenient.” This approach highly prioritizes illegal immigration as a national security issue, raising the need for increased national and multilateral regulation, thus increasing Malaysian and the Philippines accountability to international bodies. This policy will aim to utilize federal resources to take appropriate measures in ensuring safe channels for legal immigration while preventing criminal activity and informal economic gains through corrupt channels of labor and migration.☼
 Human trafficking is defined as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of threat or use of force or arms of coercion, of abduction, fraud, and deception, for the purpose of exploitation. This is defined as prostitution or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery, or removal of organs (UNHCR, 2006).
 Countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards AND: a) The absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing; b) There is a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year (U.S. State Department).