Lured by jobs, Bangladeshis end up slaves in Thai jungles

Hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshi nationals in pursuit of jobs in Malaysia are believed to have fallen victim to the modern-day slave trade, amid claims of rampant human trafficking activities over the porous Malaysia-Thailand border, according to The Daily Star today.

The Bangladesh-based English newspaper claimed that at least 250,000 Bangladeshis have been held in the jungles of Thailand for ransom over the past eight years, squeezing their families of anything between TK200,000 (RM9,200) to TK350,000 Bangladeshi Taka for each captive.

Security forces are seen at an abandoned camp in a jungle some 300m from the border with Malaysia, in Thailand’s southern Songkhla province May 2, 2015. — Reuters pic

Quoting a Bangladeshi expatriate-turned-broker based in Malaysia, the report said Thailand’s coast provided strategic cover for the trafficking operations given the remoteness of the mountainous region.

“The migrants are confined in Thailand to realise the ransom before they are sent to Malaysia, because in the past some jobseekers fled from Thailand without paying. It is better to settle the business at the right time,” the broker told the newspaper on condition of anonymity.

The Daily Star’s report comes barely 48 hours after Thai authorities exhumed 26 bodies, believed to be of migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh, from a mass grave in the southern province of Songkhla.

International newswire Reuters reported that the grave is believed to be near a suspected human trafficking camp on a hillside deep in the jungle. Three survivors were found at the camp, including two children.

The newspaper estimates that trafficking rings transport around 1,000 people out of Bangladesh weekly over eight months of the year or around 32,000 people annually based on figures gathered from victims, union chiefs from the coastal town of Cox’s Bazar where the ships are loaded, and rights activists.

Assuming a TK200,000 ransom for each victim, traffickers stand to earn some TK640 million, the report added.

The report also described how traffickers operated, quoting a survivor who said that trafficking victims are constantly shifted between camps to avoid detection and to prime them for the eventual attempt at crossing the border into Malaysia.

Jewel Barua, 22, who was rescued by Thai authorities in January last year, said the migrants would be transported on the back of pick-up trucks and covered with a porous plastic sheet, and are passed off as “vegetables” whenever the vehicles are stopped along the way, ostensibly by the police.

Once across the border, trafficking victims are then held at “receive houses” set up in Malaysia where some are released if the ransom is paid, as in the case of a victim named Anis who managed to secure a cleaning job in the country with the help of his brother.

Others, however, were not as lucky. The report quoted trafficking victim Nazrul Islam, who claimed he was sold by his captors to a Malaysian construction supervisor despite having paid the TK180,000 ransom.

“It is a myth that traffickers will arrange jobs for trafficking victims. People are still being lured into the voyage.

“Maybe some trafficking victims are boarding a cargo vessel right at this moment somewhere in the wide, wide Bangladesh sea,” Nazrul said in a phone interview with the newspaper.

Last year, Malaysia was relegated to Tier 3 in the US State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, the lowest ranking, joining Thailand, The Gambia and Venezuela.

In the report, Tier 1 countries are those who meet anti-trafficking standards. Tier 2 do not but are making a significant effort to do so. Tier 3 countries do not meet the standards and are not making a significant effort to do so.

Tier 3 countries are open to sanctions by the US government. A US law also includes a watch list, in which countries on Tier 2 for two years are downgraded to Tier 3 unless they receive presidential waivers, available for two additional years.

-malaymail online