There have been numerous reports on how Bangladeshi victims have escaped the captivity of human traffickers or how they have been rescued by law enforcers or rights bodies.
Before becoming a victim of human trafficking, the story of Md Raihan, an 18-year-old lad from Cox’s Bazar, was pretty much the same as any other who fell into the lure of a “neverland” called Malaysia.
Raihan’s inspiration was his cousin Nazrul, who went to Malaysia illegally and changed the fate of his family by sending money back home.
He could not have set out on the perilous journey just like that. Inevitably, he fell into the trap laid by a broker named Hamid.
Many brokers would take lakhs of taka from illegal migration seekers before sending them off. There are also brokers, like Hamid, who would tempt simpletons, like Raihan, by telling them that they would have to pay only after they start earning in Malaysia.
“So, we [Raihan and his 20-year-old cousin Shamsu] decided to follow Nazrul’s suit. We did not tell our families that we were going to Malaysia. One night, when everyone fell asleep, we sneaked out and went to a quiet village in the remote island of Moheshkhali which was surrounded by a jungle,” said Raihan while talking to this reporter in a house in the Cox’s Bazar town recently.
As soon as they had arrived at the village around 9pm, they were captured and locked inside an earthen cottage with a thatched roof. There were 28 more people inside that cottage and they were kept under constant watch by armed guards.
“The gang had female members too. But they were mostly cooks.”
There were many more such cottages in the village and they are all used for the same purpose.
Around one in the morning, they were taken to a fishing boat and stacked inside a cold storage used for keeping fish. A total of 10 men, all armed, were in charge of the boat.
After two days and one night, the boat reached Shita Pahar and they were shifted to a cargo boat, where 300 more people were held hostage at gunpoint.
The traffickers tied a black ribbon to the wrists of Raihan and some others. There were also people with green, red and blue ribbons. He does not know what the different colours stand for.
From Bangladesh to Thailand
They were kept at Shita Pahar for 20 days and every day more people were brought in. Finally, when the number climbed to 600, they decided to move. Around a hundred were women and 15-20 were children, all from Myanmar.
“One day, suddenly the traffickers started stuffing us back inside the fish storage because a team of the Myanmar Navy was approaching. After four hours of negotiation, the traffickers reached a Tk15 lakh deal with the navy guys. Two days later, we started for Malaysia.”
Six days and six nights later, they arrived at the edge of a jungle in Thailand. Small fishing boats took them from the cargo boat, 20 at a time, and dropped them in the middle of a shallow river. They had to walk through throat-high water to reach land.
In the evening, they were stuffed inside small black covered vans, 20 at a time again. There was no room to move and they were not allowed to make any noises.
The vans travelled for 12 hours in the dark. Sometimes police would stop them on the way and the drivers would say they were carrying fish.
“Finally, we reached a hilly area around dawn. Then we had to walk eight hours to reach the top of the hill, which was much taller than any hills in Bangladesh. It was the rainy season and walking all the way to the hilltop was a difficult task. Many slipped and got injured.
“All this time, we were given very little food and water. Whenever we cried of hunger and thirst, we were beaten mercilessly.”
Buying and selling
The hostages were divided into two groups – one who could meet their ransom demand and others who could not.
“There are separate buyers for the women. They never buy any man. These buyers sell the women to brokers.”
They set a Tk1.8 lakh ransom for each of the hostages, who were expected to ask their relatives back home to arrange the money and pay it to the agents of these traffickers. They would beat those up mercilessly whose families could not arrange the money within three days.
Three days later, Raihan and his cousin Shamsu were sold to a man named Hazi for 6,000 Malaysian ringgit (Tk1.22 lakh) each. Some were sold for as little as 2,000-3,000 ringgit.
“I saw that at least 30 people were killed and buried at the hilltop.”
Hazi took the 25 of them to a place on the Malaysian border. They walked from 5pm to 5am to reach that place.
From Malaysia to Bangladesh
Finally, they were stuffed in three small black sedan cars, seven in each, and taken across the border into a house inside the Malaysian territory.
“I did not know after how many days we got to take a bath. They gave us food but took away all our belongings and gave us half-pants to put on. Then they called us one by one and asked whether our families had arranged the ransom.
“They learned that the family of one of the victims, Russel, had managed the money and deposited it into an account of the Sonali Bank in Bangladesh. But a little later they talked to someone over phone in Bangladesh and learned that their agents had not got the money. Right away, one of them hit Russel hard in the head. He started bleeding profusely and soon fell unconscious.”
Raihan telephoned his family but he was told that they would need a few more days to arrange the money. That meant more torture.
Finally, three days later, his family arranged Tk3.6 lakh for him and his cousin and they were released. Then they went to their cousin Nazrul’s place.
A few days later, Raihan contacted a man named Hossain, who he knew was the main broker. Raihan then managed a job and saved 2,000 Malaysian ringgit to finally come back home.
He met another Bangladeshi broker in Malaysia and that man eventually made the arrangements for Raihan’s homecoming.
Case Study I: A lure too good to be true
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