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Sabah diving instructor lured by lucrative job offer endures 14 months in Myawaddy scam compound

A Sabahan woman’s optimistic job opportunity in Bangkok turned nightmarish as she fell prey to a Myanmar scam syndicate.

Victims endured brutal punishments for unmet targets, with the Sabahan revealing 20 others’ plight, constrained to labor without pay, minimal communication, and facing abusive conditions.

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MALAYSIA: A promising opportunity turned into a harrowing ordeal for a 40-year-old Sabahan woman from Kota Belud, who fell victim to a scam syndicate in Myanmar, ensnared by the allure of a well-paying job offer in Bangkok, Thailand.

Known under the pseudonym Chiko, she had been a devoted diving instructor in her hometown, enticed by the enticing offer of a 40,000 Baht monthly salary (equivalent to US$1,099) for a customer service position in the Thai capital.

Her ill-fated journey began after she followed a friend’s recommendation about a job post on Facebook and subsequently reached out to the recruiting agent.

Eager to seize the opportunity, she set off for Bangkok from Kota Kinabalu in August 2022.

Yet, her path quickly transformed into a 14-month nightmare as she was rerouted to Mae Sot, Thailand, and subsequently intercepted and sold to a syndicate in Myanmar.

Recalling her harrowing experience upon her return to Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) on Wednesday (11 Oct), Chiko shared how the syndicate confiscated her phone and passport, coercing her into assuming the role of a ‘scammer’ within the confines of a building in Myawaddy.

“During my time in the scam compound, I was forced to engage in love scams over the phone every day, targeting mainly Asians, including Malaysians, Macanese, Singaporeans, and Australians. ”

“In the course of these 14 months, I only received a total of 12,000 Thai Baht (approximately US$329) in the first two months.”

Electric shocks, physical abuse, and confinement: The gruesome punishments for falling short

The consequences for failing to meet their set targets were severe, with victims enduring electric shocks, physical violence, and confinement in dark, oppressive spaces.

Shocking revelations emerged as Chiko disclosed that approximately 20 other Malaysian victims faced similar exploitation, compelled to work tirelessly without compensation, and their communication restricted to brief, bi-monthly phone access.

“While in the compound, we were only allowed to contact our families twice a month, with each call not exceeding 10 minutes. ”

“Although the criminal group provided us with food and accommodation, as a Muslim, you had to accept whatever arrangements they made, including consuming pork.”

She pitied other victims who were Muslims because they were forced to eat pork every day.

“I am grateful to be rescued and thankful to all parties who helped and made my story a lesson.

“I hope the public remains vigilant against the allure of lucrative job offers on social media, as they often mask treacherous traps,” she urged.

Syndicate breaks promise despite payment of RM 20,000 ransom for Chiko’s release

Datuk Hishamuddin Hashim, the Secretary-General of the Malaysian Humanitarian Organization (MHO), revealed that despite the victim’s family in Sabah filing two police reports and paying a ransom of RM20,000 (US$4,230) to the syndicate several months ago, the victim remained in captivity.

The family’s desperate plea led to the intervention of the MHO, initiating a collaborative effort involving MHO representatives, strategic allies in Myanmar, and assistance from Thai authorities.

Recalling the distressing events, Chiko recounted, “Several months ago, the criminal group demanded that my family pay RM20,000 in exchange for my freedom.”

“However, after receiving the payment, they reneged on their promise. Eventually, my family contacted MHO, and the MHO rescue team instructed me to seize an opportunity to escape from the compound’s building before they could facilitate my crossing of the river into Thailand.”

Chiko’s daring escape

Chiko’s escape from the clutches of the syndicate relied solely on her own resourcefulness.

Exploiting a moment when the compound’s security personnel were changing shifts and distracted, she successfully fled the building.

After her escape, she met with the local MHO rescue team, who arranged a covert water passage for her into Thailand, under the protection of the Thai military.

Notably, the collaborative endeavour included MHO’s strategic partners, comprising several Myanmar citizens, who facilitated her safe passage across the border to Mae Sot through a clandestine river route, aided by the cooperation of the Thai military stationed at the Mae Sot and Myawaddy border.

According to Azirul Syafiq Sazali, the rescue operation, spanning a mere three days, was followed by a complex immigration process in Bangkok, overseen closely by Thai authorities.

After ten days, and with the unwavering support of the Malaysian Embassy in Thailand, Chiko was finally repatriated and is anticipated to return to Sabah later today.

MHO warns against yielding to human traffickers’ ransom demands

Datuk Hishamuddin Hashim reiterated his plea to the victims’ families, urging them not to give in to the human trafficking syndicates’ demands for ransom.

He emphasized that yielding to such demands would only embolden the syndicates, leading to even more exorbitant ransom requests.

He highlighted that the syndicate had demanded a staggering sum of RM 1.2 million (US$253,753) from one victim’s family.

To secure his son’s safety, the father had contemplated selling the family’s land to raise the required funds for his release.

While acknowledging that he had not personally followed up on the mentioned case, he expressed uncertainty regarding whether the father had gone through with the decision to sell the land.

However, in Chiko’s case, her family in Sabah rallied support from the local community, raising RM5,800 to settle the fine for her overstaying in Thailand.

He clarified that although Chiko had been rescued ten days prior, her extended stay necessitated compliance with Thai laws and regulations post-rescue.

Hisham also lauded Chiko’s courage, underscoring the fear that restrained many others in similar circumstances from attempting escape, subjecting them to prolonged inhumane living conditions within the compound.

“In light of the intelligence gathered, there are instances when security at the compound relaxes. In the event of a successful escape, MHO can facilitate contact with local support.”

“While MHO personnel cannot enter the compound to rescue these victims, we have local contacts who can provide assistance.”

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