PETALING JAYA: Kareem (not his real name) first considered becoming a migrant worker in Malaysia when he heard his neighbours in Bangladesh discussing the idea.
“I wanted to give a better life to my wife and two children, but I deliberated for some time on whether I should leave,” he said at a press conference on the subject of human trafficking.
He said he sought information on the process of getting a job in Malaysia from a man claiming to be an employment agent.
“He quoted me prices for tourist and student visas, but the amounts were too high, costing from RM15,000 to RM20,000. I could not afford them.”
He said the man then offered him an “alternative method”, which involved travelling by ship. “He said it would be something like a cruise ship and I needed to pay only about RM11,000 to enjoy the trip.”
Kareem was hesitant because the offer seemed to him too good to be true, but the agent kept pressuring him as the deadline drew near. This made him even more suspicious.
Eventually, the agent abducted him and took him to the port of Chittagong, where he was put on a boat and from there transferred to a ship.
“It was nothing like a cruise ship,” he said. “I was dumped into the vessel along with more than 500 people. The 45-day trip was pure torture.”
He said there was room only for them to sit. “We were kept in a packed space with poor ventilation and we were each fed half a packet of instant noodles a day.”
He said the women were sexually abused by the abductors.
Not all the victims survived the 45 days. “Some went crazy and jumped into the sea,” he said.
Kareem spoke through interpreter Ashik Khan, a researcher with the human rights group Tenaganita.
He said he arrived in Kedah in December 2015 and was taken into a forest where he was kept for 25 days.
He was released when his family in Bangladesh cleared payment demanded as fees for his employment abroad.
“I met my cousin who worked as a construction labourer in Malaysia,” he said. “He gave me some money and introduced me to a job in the construction sector.”
Kareem said he had since applied for a card under the government’s rehiring programme.
Asked what changes he had experienced through the programme, he said he now felt like a free man.
“The biggest gift, I think, is that I am partly documented under the programme. I just want to earn a decent income and when I think I have made enough, I want to go back to my family.”
Ashik said Kareem was no longer afraid to go out in public. “When he was illegal, he was scared of going out and being beaten,” he added.