mid-day uncovers human-trafficking racket that sends unsuspecting Indians to the country as illegal migrants to toil as factory labourers in slavery-like conditions
It was very heartening when, after a series of reports exposing the plight of 24 Indian workers who had been forced to work in a factory under inhuman conditions for very little pay in Malaysia, the Indians were rescued by the local police and activists.
Indian workers are lured with high-paying jobs in Malaysia
However, the relief lasted merely a day the workers were dumped back into another factory by the Malayasian cops, and the ‘rescued’ workers are now missing and impossible to contact. mid-day had, in two front-page reports, exposed the slavery-like conditions Indians and other workers were working in at a palm oil factory belonging to CM Fibre Processing SDN BHD, located in Sibu, Sarawak, in Malaysia.
They are sent to the country on a tourist visa, with the promise of converting it into a work visa within a month
These were the first-person accounts of two Indians Lokesh Sapaliga and Narender Singh who had bravely escaped from the factory and the clutches of their oppressors who regularly beat them and forced them to work for 20 hours a day, in exchange for a few thousand rupees a month and rotten food.
They are sent to the country on a tourist visa, with the promise of converting it into a work visa within a month
Most Indians had been lured on the pretext of working on a ship for a handsome salary, and when they landed in the country, they had been sold as cheap labour by the human trafficking mafia in connivance with Indian agents. While Sapaliga managed to get back to India, Singh is still stuck in Malaysia because his passport is with his agent, who is absconding.
On reaching Malaysia, they are sold into slave labour for 5,000-7,000 ringgits (Rs 92,000 to Rs 1.2 lakh)
Following the damning reports and an uproar, the Malaysian authorities intervened and rescued the 24 Indians and a few Nepalis from the factory on November 10. But, these rescued people have gone off the radar. After a few phone calls, they haven’t gotten in touch with this correspondent.
The labourers toil in sub-human conditions for 20 hours a day, being paid meagre sums and surviving on scraps
Calls to the phones on which the workers were communicating have been going unanswered despite several attempts. Some of the workers, who had spoken to mid-day soon after the police operation, alleged that they have been pushed back into slave hell in another oil palm factory located close by, belonging to CN Fibre’s sister concern, Sri Minyak Group Bhd. Some workers tried to contact this paper from their washrooms, but in a few days their phones were switched off.
Malaysian police arrest workers for lack of documents, and extort bribes for their release. This leaves the migrants with no money to send home
After this correspondent met several agents and Indians who have been through this hell, it came to the fore that sending unsuspecting Indians to Malaysia is an international racket run by Indian and Malaysian agents.
Young Indians looking to move up in life and earn better salaries are the ideal catch for Indian agents. They are lured with attractive job offers in Malaysia and sent to the country on tourist visas, with a promise to convert it into a work visa in a month.
mid-day’s November 12 report on the rescue
Once the Indian lands in Malaysia, he is told that his visa is fake and that he could face legal trouble. Agents in Malaysia then confine them in a room and sell them to local factories and businesses for 5,000-7,000 ringgits (Rs 90,000 to Rs 1.25 lakh). The owners make the helpless migrants work odd jobs for the entire day, paying them a pittance in return.
Malaysian police are hand-in-glove in this system, as they mint money both from factory owners for turning a blind eye to their employing illegal migrant labour, and from the workers themselves, for not arresting them for entering the country unlawfully. The migrants starve, live in pathetic conditions and end up in jail.
Despite thousands of Indian youth falling prey to this racket, the Indian High Commission in Malaysia has allegedly done little to stop the menace. mid-day spoke to many other migrants and learnt how they went to Malaysia in search of a better life and got stuck there for several months without any money.
Surviving on leftovers
Ninad Shetye (40), Parel resident (name changed)
Promised job: Security supervisor at a five-star hotel
Actual job: Factory labour, scrapyard worker
Shetye quit his permanent job with a telecom company in Mumbai, and left for Malaysia in January 2012, having been promised a salary of around Rs 60,000 for working as a security supervisor. On reaching Malaysia, he was forced to work in the oil palm factory.
“I survived on leftovers of some Indonesians, but I had to clean all their utensils,” said a tearful Shetye. “I was earning Rs 10,500 here. A couple from Palghar promised me job of a security supervisor in a five-star hotel in Malaysia. I fell for it and took a loan of Rs 2.40 lakh,” Shetye said.
The couple referred him to another sub-agent, Eugene Miranda, from Mira Road, who sold him to an oil palm factory owner in Meru, Kuala Lumpur. “We were hired to clean bushes around the palm trees. On the first day, we found snakes and scorpion in the bushes. There was no medical help at hand, in case the reptiles bit us. All five of us refused to work.
I then worked at a scrap yard; then as a security officer at a construction site. I manned the gates for almost 24 hours, for a mere 600 ringgits a month (Rs 11,000). I then got the job of a security guard at a three-star hotel. But the cops caught me thrice and took 2,000 ringgits (Rs 37,000) from me. I paid them whatever I earned there,” he added.
'Almost killed myself'
Danny Mascarenhas (38) Goa resident
Promised job: Bartender
Actual job: Bartender
Mascarenhas left behind a fabrication business in search of brighter shores to Malaysia. “I once stood in the balcony of my building and had made up my mind to jump. But I thought of my six-year-old son and stepped back,” he recalled.
He left in June 2013, and returned in August this year, after paying a heavy fine for overstaying in the country since his agent had not given him the valid visa. “We lived in deplorable conditions and had no money to even cut our hair. We gave each other haircuts to save money,” he said.
When he reached Malaysia, the agent took 3,000 ringgits (Rs 55,000) as fees for making his visa which he never issued and procuring a job. The police caught him twice for overstaying and extracted bribes to release him. “The first time, I was on my way to transfer money to my family in India. The cop took 400 ringgits. On the second occasion, the cop snatched 1,000 ringgits from my pocket.
The owner of my restaurant called up the police commissioner and the cops were asked to return my money,” he said. Mascarenhas paid a total of 3,000 ringgits for overstaying and another 1,000 ringgits to get a temporary passport made. He landed in India with only ten ringgits (Rs 180). “My wife sold all her gold, our wedding rings and her mangalsutra to get me back.”
'Mom sold her gold for me'
Pravin Apos (29) Karnataka resident
Promised job: In a rubber factory
Actual job: Oil palm factory worker, scrap yard labourer, dish washer
Apos hails from Karopadi village in Mangalore, Karnataka, where he worked as a driver in a private company. He was lured to Malaysia with a promised monthly salary of Rs 35,000 in a rubber factory. Upon reaching there, he was first thrown into an oil palm factory in remote areas of Kuala Lumpur. Apos laboured for 17 hours a day and ate stale and rotten food.
Like Shetye, Apos’s second assignment was at a dumping yard of a factory. There, Apos had to separate iron from plastic and other scrap. On the fourth day of his job, the owner came to know the 29-year-old lacked a proper work permit and threw him out.
“For a month I was jobless. My mother had sold her ornaments to send me to Malaysia. I myself had brought some Rs 45,000 with me for daily expenses, which was expended too,” he said. Apos then worked as a dishwasher at one Olive Tree Bar and Restaurant for a monthly salary of 1,400 ringgits (Rs 26,000 approximately), but lost all his money to the extorting policemen for lack of documents.
Apos somehow managed to come back to India and is now back in his driving job. He now faces a Herculean task of making up for the loss of his mother’s gold and his own savings.
Hotel management grad to dish washer
Prashant Singh (27) Mira Road resident (name changed)
Promised job: Front desk at a five-star hotel
Actual job: Dish washer
The hotel management graduate and was promised a front-desk job at a five-star hotel in Malaysia, for a sum of Rs 40,000 per month. In December 2012, Singh left for Malaysia and ended up at a local bakery, cleaning utensils. “I was sent on a student visa. The agent promised to convert the same into a work permit, but it was never done. I ended up staying illegally in Malaysia,” Singh recalled.
Singh, who was sent to Malaysia by Miranda, worked at a local bakery called The Loaf in Kuala Lumpur, where he cleaned dishes for 700 ringgits (Rs 12,600). “My salary was more than 2,000 ringgits (Rs 36,000), but the agent took a cut of 1,300 ringgits (Rs 23,400). Maggi is a big boon for people like us. We cannot venture out, as there is a risk of getting caught by the cops,” he said.
Having borrowed money from his father, Singh has not told his family members about his plight. He fears his short-tempered father will kill the agent who did this to him. “No one will like to hear that their son, a hotel management graduate, cleaned utensils to survive in a foreign land,” he said. A Borivli-based agent, Alap Shah, took care of all the basic needs of the migrants once he came to know of their situation.It was Shah who helped Singh return to India in July 2013.
The saviour agent
Alap Shah (34) has been a freelance visa consultant for nine years. He has arranged student and tourist visas for Indians to travel to USA, Australia, UK and Singapore and began working for Malaysian visas after Eugene Miranda approached him.
Alap Shah filed a case against Miranda for pushing Indian workers into slavery. Pic/Nimesh Dave
“In three years, I have realised that Malaysia is the worst country when it comes to labour laws. I had sent around 20 Indians, but when I realised my boys were stuck because Miranda had been pushing them into slavery, I rushed there. I arranged temporary accomm-odations for them,” he said.
“In some cases, I gave them cash; for some I arranged tickets, and for others I paid fines to get them released from jail,” he added. Shah said none of the boys had complained against him, despite the fact that he had unknowingly become a part of the racket – because of the assistance he had extended to them.
Instead, they had agreed to be witnesses in the case against Miranda. But, according to Shah, neither the Indian High Commission nor the cops in India are concerned about the slavery racket. “I had to run between Mira Road, Borivli and Goregaon police stations and, finally, the Goregaon police took the case,” he said. Miranda was arrested on charges of cheating and conspiracy and released on bail in October, after three months.