More than 300 Malaysian human-trafficking victims still trapped in Myanmar

KUALA LUMPUR: More than 300 Malaysians are still trapped in Myanmar after becoming human-trafficking victims of syndicates.

These Malaysians are waiting to be transferred from Myanmar to the syndicates' new base of operations at the outskirts of Tonpheung near Laos within the Golden Triangle.

The rocky political climate in Myanmar has forced the syndicate to shift their base of operations to somewhere deemed more stable.

This was confirmed by Malaysia International Humanitarian Organisation (MHO) activist, Azirul Syafiq Sazali, who was involved in numerous rescue missions involving human-trafficking victims in Myanmar and Laos.

He said for now, more than 100 such victims from Laukkaing, Myanmar have been released by the syndicate due to the conflict in the country, and brought back home.

"The ones which are set to move (to Laos) are the syndicates in Tachileik and Myawaddy, also in Myanmar. I estimate that there are more than 300 people still there," he told Berita Harian.

Azirul Syafik said armed clashes between ethnic groups and the Myanmar government have led to the closure of numerous 'scammer' centres and the arrest of syndicate members.

"As such, these syndicates have begun moving from Laukkaing to the outskirts of Tonpheung. We believe they chose this area as it was developed by Chinese investors and is now populated by businessmen from China.

"It's rare to see locals doing business there, any business. In the past, it was just a forested area. It has now become a city and now, these syndicates are making it their base," he said.

It is understood that these syndicates had initially set up base in Tonpheung five years ago before expanding their operations to Myanmar.

On possible rescue operations following the syndicates' shift to Laos, Azirul Syafik said such operations are now easier as the area is easily accessible.

"I feel that it's easier to mount rescue operations now as there are no obstructions towards entering the area, unlike in Myanmar, where many areas have been closed off due to conflicts.

"There's no issue with entering Laos. We predict that once they move their operations there, our (rescue) work, especially on bringing the victims elsewhere, will be easier," he said.


Relating his experience in participating in rescue missions, he said the victims would usually send out their locations to enable MHO to track them down.

"We would send representatives to negotiate a possible release of the victims. If negotiations fail, we would then have to adopt a tougher approach by sending more people.

"This would usually involve some influential people in Myanmar, namely members of some ethnic groups, to go directly into the syndicates' centre and take out the victims.

"These syndicate members are actually afraid of anyone coming in to rescue, as there is an agreement with the Myanmar government on not killing any foreigners who come to rescue trapped victims.

"These syndicates would usually free the victims, as demanded," he said.

He acknowledged that cases of human-trafficking are on the rise partly because some Malaysians themselves are playing key roles in the syndicate operations, such as operations managers.

He said worryingly, some syndicates have also grown more violent and have taken to severely beating up their victims.

"One person we rescued on Dec 7 was among the worst to be assaulted. Out of 11 people rescued, nine were tortured and beaten.

He said although Thailand isn't regarded as a human-trafficking hub in Southeast Asia, scammers have nevertheless made their presence felt.

Berita Harian had previously reported how Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, the Philippines and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are fast becoming centres of job scam syndicates.

It is understood that out of the five states, victims from Malaysia make up the majority of those trapped in Myanmar and Cambodia.

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