MALAYSIA: Unlawful groups operating in Myanmar spare no one in their pursuit of illicit gains. Even individuals with intellectual disabilities and physical impairments have fallen victim to their fraudulent job schemes.
These unfortunate circumstances have led three Malaysian women to seek assistance from representatives of the People’s Justice Party (PKR) and the Malaysia International Humanitarian Organization (MHO).
They are urgently appealing to the Malaysian government to intervene and rescue their loved ones.
According to Malaysian media Kwong Wah Yit Poh, two of the victims have intellectual disabilities, with one experiencing epilepsy, while the other had previously endured minor paralysis due to spinal injuries.
These individuals, failing to meet their performance targets, find themselves trapped in a camp where they endure severe abuse, evoking deep sympathy.
Son with epilepsy and intellectual disabilities sold and injured
Mrs X, for instance, shared her ordeal about her 29-year-old son, who has been living with epilepsy and intellectual disabilities since the age of 13.
He left for work in the United Arab Emirates in December 2021 but subsequently disappeared. Periodically, he reassured his mother via WhatsApp.
However, last Sunday, he revealed that he had been sold to another group due to poor performance, enduring severe leg injuries that left him with significant scars.
“My son complained of a foul odour emanating from his wounds. In late March this year, our family paid approximately RM 20,000 (approximately US$4,232) to an intermediary in an attempt to secure his release, but no progress has been made.”
Initially, Mrs X visited various police stations in the Kuala Lumpur area multiple times to report the situation. She also sought assistance from Bukit Bintang Member of Parliament Fong Kui Lun but was allegedly informed that the case was beyond his jurisdiction.
Therefore, in March this year, Mrs X turned to MCA and the Immigration Department in Putrajaya for help but still received no assistance.
“My son first contacted my sister in January this year, claiming that he had been sold to the syndicates in northern Myanmar, and later resold to another group.”
Their most recent contact was last Sunday when her son’s feet were once again injured, and he sent pictures of the wounds. The family is now left in the dark about his whereabouts.
Mrs. X admits her struggle with articulation and is unsure how to approach the embassy for assistance.
Mother of intellectually disabled victim confronted with a US$50,000 ransom demand
Another mother, Mrs Y, revealed that her 28-year-old son, who has intellectual disabilities, last contacted her a week before this year’s Mid-Autumn Festival.
He had left home in a car before disappearing. Later, the family received a text message from him, indicating that the car was parked in a lot in Seremban, Negeri Sembilan. The family followed the lead but found no trace of the vehicle.
“Inside the car, only my son’s cellphone was left, and all the data on the phone had been completely formatted and deleted.”
She promptly reported the situation to the police, and authorities later informed her that her son may have been abducted and taken to northern Myanmar.
This news greatly disturbed her, causing her to fear for her son’s safety and leading to tears.
Mrs Y explained that her son had fallen seriously ill and spent a month in a coma just days after his birth, resulting in intellectual disabilities. He had also suffered a spinal fracture injury in the past but had since recovered.
She said that the human trafficking group had once contacted the family using another phone number and demanded a ransom of $50,000 USD. Although the family negotiated, reducing the ransom to $10,000 USD, they ultimately did not pay the ransom.
A three-day job opportunity in Thailand ends in a nightmare
Regarding the wife of the third victim, Mrs. Z, she disclosed that her 28-year-old husband had been facing economic difficulties. He learned about a coal company in Thailand offering lucrative compensation for only three days of work through an online search.
To support their family’s daily expenses, her husband attended an interview in Thailand on the 23rd of last month.
Unfortunately, this journey proved to be one-way.
Her husband was supposed to return home on the 25th of last month but later sent her a message explaining that he had been deceived by a fraudulent group and taken to northern Myanmar for forced labour.
These desperate families are appealing to the Malaysian government to address the grave issue of human trafficking and rescue their loved ones.
Escalating Myanmar crisis compels humanitarian organizations to lead rescue efforts
MHO has been inundated with cases of human trafficking victims and abductions since 2022.
Despite their efforts to seek assistance from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Myanmar Embassy, a solution remains elusive.
“Myanmar is currently embroiled in internal conflict and political instability. At this stage, diplomatic channels are not feasible for rescue operations. Therefore, we must rely on non-governmental organizations,” stated Datuk Hishamuddin Hashim, Secretary-General of MHO.
In fact, MHO has sought local assistance to initiate rescue operations, but details of their strategies must remain confidential for security reasons.
He cautioned the families of victims against paying ransoms to intermediaries, as it does not offer a viable solution and may inadvertently support extortion.
According to MHO’s data, in at least ten cases, families paid ransoms, but the victims remained in captivity.
“MHO will soon assemble a team to visit Yangon, Myanmar’s capital, to collaborate with local authorities on rescue strategies. Our primary focus will be on Myawaddy in southeastern Myanmar and Tachilek, located near the Thai border.”
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.
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.
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