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From lucrative job offer to human trafficking trap

In many cases, rescuing Malaysians caught in human trafficking is difficult for a number of reasons.

Teoh Yee Shen
3 minute read
Representatives from NGOs hold up signs at a gathering in Putrajaya calling for the government's intervention in the matter of job scams in other countries involving Malaysians. Photo: Bernama
Representatives from NGOs hold up signs at a gathering in Putrajaya calling for the government's intervention in the matter of job scams in other countries involving Malaysians. Photo: Bernama

Susan (not her real name) spends her days worrying about her son who has been detained by the authorities in Cambodia. 

According to the Malaysian embassy there, he is being held because he travelled to the country without the necessary documents. 

Speaking to MalaysiaNow, however, Susan said the 24-year-old was in fact trafficked to Cambodia and forced to work for a scam company there. 

Recalling how it all began, she said her son was lured to Cambodia with the promise of a lucrative pay. 

Upon his arrival, he realised that he had been brought in illegally – but by then, it was too late. 

He was set to work using social media platforms like Facebook to run investment scams, but the key performance indicators set by the company left him stressed out and struggling to keep up. 

He was told that if he failed to achieve results, he would be punished, including by being beaten. 

Eventually, he was sold to another company. But this was not the only time – after the syndicate learnt that he was receiving help, he was sold yet again and transferred to another location. 

Back in Malaysia, Susan was doing everything she could to make sure that her son was safe. 

After his rescue, he was handed over to the Cambodian immigration authorities who detained him, reportedly for travelling without documents. 

'Modern-day slavery'

Activist Adrian Pereira said it was difficult to rescue Malaysians caught in human trafficking due to a number of reasons. 

He cited, among others, a poor victim identification system and a lack of competency on the issue. 

Pereira, the executive director of social justice group North-South Initiative, gave the example of a case in which a Malaysian woman followed her Nepali boyfriend back to his home country. 

Once there, he said, instead of renewing her visa, the man subjected her to hard labour in the house for 10 years. 

"This is a type of gender-based violence as well as trafficking," he said. 

When the woman made her way to the embassy for help, he added, instead of being identified as a victim, she was handed over to Nepal's immigration authorities. 

From there, she was supposed to be placed at a safe house. 

"They think this is the right thing to do, based on international understanding," Pereira said. 

"But that's the wrong thing to do. She should be placed at a shelter under our jurisdiction." 

Pereira, who is currently handling two such cases, said that judging from the response he received from the various embassies, the staff there had "minimal to no knowledge" of how to help Malaysians caught in what he described as "modern-day slavery". 

'Smart' syndicates

When contacted by MalaysiaNow, the MCA Public Services and Complaints Department said it had received requests for help in more than 100 similar cases since April this year. 

Department head Michael Chong said the syndicates involved were "smart" and would change their tactics depending on the situation to lure individuals who would then end up as human trafficking victims. 

But sometimes, the victims themselves and their families have a role to play in the outcome, he said. 

"I have had cases where the parents bring their child to my office, and I tell them it's fake but they still want to go," he said. "They believe the money is there." 

He said victims are also told by the syndicates that if they want to be released, they must find someone else to replace them. 

"Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar are the three main countries where these victims are trafficked," he said. 

At home, Susan is still waiting for the safe return of her son. 

"There has been no definite date or answer given by our embassy in Cambodia about when he will be released," she said. 

"My son was trafficked in illegally without travel documents," she added. 

"He is a victim of human trafficking and should not be treated as a criminal."