MALAYSIA: Approximately 1,000 Malaysians have fallen victim to a heart-wrenching human trafficking operation in Myanmar, orchestrated by an international syndicate.
These helpless individuals have been coerced into working as ‘call operators,’ engaging in fraudulent activities and scams, as unveiled by the Malaysia International Humanitarian Organisation (MHO).
According to the report, Malaysians ensnared by this syndicate have been subjected to physical abuse, confinement in dark and squalid quarters, and denial of sustenance if they dared to defy the syndicate’s orders.
Moreover, the syndicate’s brutality escalates when the victims fail to fulfil assigned tasks or do not meet the desired targets.
Datuk Hishamuddin Hashim, Secretary General of the MHO, disclosed a disturbing number of complaints they’ve received, detailing the plight of Malaysians ensnared by these nefarious syndicates within Myanmar, Utusan Malaysia reported.
Distressed family members have come forward, recounting threats and extortion attempts by syndicate members, demanding exorbitant sums, often in the hundreds of thousands of ringgit, for the release of their loved ones.
Hishamuddin shared a harrowing account of a mother whose son had been coerced into working abroad, faced with a staggering demand of RM1.2 million (US$254,400) for his release, illustrating the varying demands made by these criminal syndicates.
Escaping captivity proves daunting for victims, as they are held in remote, heavily guarded locations far from the syndicate’s headquarters.
Hishamuddin added that these syndicates form part of an expansive, transnational criminal network with far-reaching connections.
While syndicate operations span multiple countries, with alleged involvement from individuals based in China and Taiwan, local elements play a pivotal role in their management.
The complexities of the situation are compounded by the lack of cooperation from authorities in Laos and Myanmar, which has left numerous Malaysians stranded in these nations, with little support from Malaysian embassies.
In September, a representative from the MHO successfully rescued a 23-year-old Malaysian who had fallen prey to a deceptive job offer near the Thai-Myanmar border, orchestrated by a human trafficking syndicate.
The victim, in early August, responded to a job advertisement on Facebook that promised daily earnings of RM200 for sound system work in Thailand. Little did he know that this was a trap. Upon arriving in Bangkok, he was picked up by a driver and transported to Myanmar.
Under the pretext of legitimate job training, he was coerced into participating in fraudulent activities, gradually ensnared by the deceitful operations of the syndicate.
UN Policy Report highlights transnational crime gangs establishing remote bases in Myanmar
In recent years, Myanmar and Cambodia have grappled with headlines of online fraud-related human trafficking schemes.
Last week, in a recently published policy report, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) strongly criticized the responses to the issue of trafficking in persons for forced criminality in Southeast Asia, characterizing them as disorganized and reactionary, lacking a systematic and well-coordinated approach.
The UN’s policy report has shed light on the alarming presence of organized crime gangs operating in the border areas of Myanmar, adjacent to China.
These remote locations, often inaccessible to law enforcement, serve as operational hubs for criminal syndicates perpetrating online scams, leaving trafficking victims with scant chances of escape.
Powerful Chinese and Taiwanese criminal organizations, operating primarily in the Mekong region and the Philippines, have orchestrated a “scamdemic” resulting in billions of dollars being siphoned off through tactics that include romance scams, extortion, and investment pyramid schemes.
While certain crackdowns have been executed in Cambodia and the Philippines, these criminal groups are evolving and perfecting their fraudulent activities from fortified compounds located within the protective umbrella of ethnic rebel groups in the conflict-ridden terrain of Myanmar.
In Myanmar, a significant hub for criminal activities has flourished in the Myawaddy region, situated just across a small river from the western Thai border town of Mae Sot.
Another network of compounds stretches along Myanmar’s eastern border with China, extending northward through Shan State, passing through the special administrative area of Wa State, and reaching Kokang, which shares a border with China’s Yunnan province.
Southeast Asian nations, in collaboration with the UNODC, have launched a strategy plan aimed at tackling organized crime and human trafficking in the region.
The new plan aims to strengthen preventative measures and enhance the capabilities of law enforcement agencies to combat international organized crime and human trafficking on a regional scale.
Malaysian workers lured by Dubai job training end up stranded in Myanmar
On 16 February, during a session in the Malaysian Parliament, it was revealed that 339 Malaysians had been left stranded in several countries due to deceitful job offers.
These destinations included Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, the Philippines, and Dubai.
Shedding light on the matter, Datuk Seri Saifuddin Nasution Ismail, Minister of Home Affairs, disclosed that 121 of these individuals were still awaiting rescue, with efforts underway in collaboration with law enforcement to repatriate them.
Hishamuddin emphasized that these syndicates employ various deceitful tactics to ensnare Malaysians, often promising lucrative job opportunities, some with salaries of up to RM15,000 (US$3,180), particularly in Thailand.
Upon arrival in the foreign country, victims find themselves abducted and subsequently transported to Myanmar through the Mae Sot border.
Others, who believed they were heading to Dubai for job training, soon found themselves stranded in Myanmar.
These criminal syndicates employ a multitude of deceptive strategies, including luring victims through acquaintances and fake job offers from reputed companies.
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