KUALA LUMPUR: “Please help me contact my family. They have no food or water, they will die soon.”
The desperate plea was made by Rohingya Hakim, 37, who has been working in Malaysia for two years.
He left a UNHCR camp in Bangladesh and made the treacherous sea voyage from Cox’s Bazar, a fishing port and trafficking hotspot in the country, to Malaysia.
Now members of his family who made the same journey have been stranded in a boat off the coast of Thailand and are awaiting rescue.
Hakim said a relative told him in a brief telephone call that 28 of the 300 boat passengers had already died.
The Star and Human Rights Watch Asia attempted to contact the number Hakim provided but could not get through.
“In Bangladesh they told me I could make money in Malaysia. I came here to find a job and support my wife and three children,” he said.
Agents of traffickers who convinced him and others to board rickety ships made them pay between RM8,000 and RM10,000 for the perilous journey.
“On the ship, some people got sick. They were thrown overboard even though they were still alive,” he said.
Bangladeshi Rezaul, 18, who came on a similar boat, said the traffickers crammed 900 people onto the vessel.
“It took nearly three months to reach the holding camp, where we were asked to pay up to RM9,000 each. We were beaten with metal rods and forced to walk around the jungle from 1am to 3pm everyday without any water,” said Rezaul, who now works as a waiter but finds it difficult to make a living.
“The police often take money from us. It is bad here too but there are no jobs at home,” he said.
The situation is not much better for those who enter Malaysia legally.
Bangladeshi Rashed, 24, paid an agent RM15,000 for a visa to work in a restaurant but was sent to a construction site.
“My employer keeps my passport and I always get in trouble with the authorities because my work visa does not match my place of employment,” he said.
Nepali security guard Janga Bahadur, 45, earns RM50 daily working 12-hour shifts with no days off.
He said although he had a work permit, policemen still extorted money from him and his colleagues, adding that his employer deducted RM10 monthly for electricity and water supply in the house rented for them.
“Nearly 80 of us are crammed into a terrace house. The toilets don’t work so we have to bathe in a makeshift bathroom,” he added.
Rohingya Salaundin, 16, sleeps in a 2.4m-wide and 6m-long shipping container with 13 other men.
It is located at a construction site, where more than 200 migrants work and the containers are stacked haphazardly atop one another.
Bathing is done communally in an open-air area and electricity supply is not constant.
Salaundin said Malaysia was still far better than his home state of Rakhine, however.
“At least here I can go out. The police just ask me for money. Back home, the police are far worse.”