Things that make you to Think

A lure too good to be true

Nirmol Tonchonga, a 20-year-old day labourer from Ukhiya of Cox’s Bazar, had no idea what fate had in store for him when he decided to try his luck as an illegal migrant in Malaysia.

Along with hundreds of illegal migration seekers who were also looking to earn enough in Malaysia for a better living back home, Nirmol wants to forget how he spent those one and a half years of his life.

For days, he was stacked like caged animals and ate just once a day in the belly of a human trafficking ship and endured inhuman torture in Thai forest camps.

Ironically, he never made it to Malaysia, and when he finally returned to his Cox’s Bazar home, he was less of a human being. Non-stop torture in the Thai forest camps left him with a crippled leg and a traumatised mind.

“I never imagined that I would have to stay two and a half months in a camp in Thailand, get to eat and drink only twice a day and spend 10 excruciatingly long months in jail in a foreign country,” Nirmol said while talking to this correspondent at his uncle’s homestead in Ukhiya.

As a day labourer, he earned Tk250 a day. On days nobody hired him, he had no income.

“Juhur Ahamed, a local businessman, told me that I could earn more if I went to Malaysia. Jhum cultivation was not an option anymore. So, that seemed the only way we could change our fate. So, I decided to give in to the lure,” Nirmol said.

Juhur told Nirmol it would take only Tk2.5 lakh and he would be walking on Malaysian soil within seven days.

The voyage

Juhur sent Nirmol and his friend Uthiya Fu to a safe house at Shah Porir Dwip in Teknaf upazila of Cox’s Bazar where they, along with two other men, spent the night.

The next day, a man named Ismail in his 40s, took the four of them to the edge of the Bay where another 250 people were waiting to embark a small ship. They were told that the ship would reach Malaysia in just seven days.

“We took enough food and water to survive seven days. But none of us took any extra attires. In two days, my water exhausted,” Nirmol said.

They were kept in the belly of the ship. There was no window, only a small door. The place was so suffocating that Nirmol had a constant headache. They were allowed to come on to the top deck only after sunset.

By the fifth day, all of them ran out of their food reserves. A team of five to six people, including the boatmen, was in charge of the boat. They gave the victims rice and mashed potato once a day. They would be beaten up mercilessly for wanting more.

Life in the Thai camp

It took them 14 days to reach Thailand. Nirmol thought they had reached Malaysia but soon realised the truth. They were taken to a camp in a deep forest.

For two and a half months, they lived in small tents, each of which accommodated 12-15 people, and were given food and water twice a day.

“Around 10 to 12 people kept a close watch on us. Six of them were Thai I guess. The rest were either Bangladeshis or Rohingyas. They looked the same but spoke different languages.”

Nirmol saw three people die of illness and starvation at the camp. The corpses were taken deeper into the jungle.

After about a month, the traffickers told Nirmol to call his brother Mangal and ask for a Tk2.5 lakh ransom.

Mangal told this reporter: “We arranged Tk2.5 lakh by selling our land and homestead and gave it to Juhur. But whenever we asked him when we would get Nirmol back, Juhur told us to wait.”

In the meantime, Nirmol had fell severely ill and one day he got unconscious.

“When I came to, I found myself in a jail. But there was nobody I knew. I did not know the language either. After staying there for 10 months, I was taken to a hospital where I got treatment and finally started moving my legs. All this time, I was crippled.”

Nirmol finally came back to Bangladesh on September 9, 2014, with help from the International Organisation for Migration.


Read full series reports on Human Trafficking in Bangladesh

Human Trafficking In Our Times-VIII: Who sheltershuman traffickers?

Human Trafficking In Our Times-VII: A security crisis in the making?

Human Trafficking In Our Times-VI: The traffickers of Teknaf

Human Trafficking In Our Times-V: How modern slavers prey on Bangladeshi 

Human Trafficking In Our Times-IV: Bangladesh’s crime coast

Human Trafficking In Our Times-III: Sold into slavery for a few thousand taka

Human Trafficking In Our Times-II: Why risk your life on the open seas?

Human Trafficking In Our Times-I: The deadly route to Malaysia

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