PETALING JAYA: They are sold a dream – of a ticket to study and work in a foreign country, but after spending their family’s entire savings, they are caught in the harsh reality of being trafficked and trapped in a constant cycle of exploitation and extortion.
Thousands of young Bangladeshis have been trafficked to Malaysia through obscure private colleges and their unscrupulous “agents”.
Some pay over RM20,000, equivalent to three years’ wages in Bangladesh, for the agents to secure student visas and admission into these bogus colleges.
But that’s just the beginning of the exploitation. Click on the video below to watch R.AGE's undercover investigation.
When they arrive in Malaysia, the victims realise the colleges don’t offer any real classes, they can’t work under student visas, and there are often additional “fees” to be paid.
Many have no choice but to work illegally under inhumane conditions, creating a cycle of exploitation where they have to earn enough to repay their debts and buy a ticket home, or pay the agents again to renew their student visas so they can work another year.
“I can’t go home, because my family spent all their money on the agent fees.
“Now I need to work here to pay for my father’s medicine,” said one victim, 24, whose father has suffered two strokes.
The team met up with agents while posing as factory managers looking for cheap labour, infiltrated the colleges, and followed the trail all the way to Dhaka, Bangladesh.
One agent told our journalist he works for a “Datuk” who owns a college in Kuala Lumpur, and that he has trafficked over 8,000 Bangladeshi students to Malaysia.
“Bangladeshi students are easy and quick money,” said the agent, who is Nepali.
“Bring in 200 or 300 of them, then distribute them (among the colleges), then you’ll make your money.”
Many of these victims live and work not far from the glittering lights of the Klang Valley’s major towns, hidden and suffering.
“Our living conditions here are worse than the garbage dumps in the slums of Dhaka,” said one victim, now a construction worker living in a makeshift ghetto in Cyberjaya.
His family had to take a loan to pay for his “studies” in Malaysia, for which they pay 21,000 taka (RM1,100) a month in instalments.
He now earns around RM1,500 a month.
“In my college, there were around 200-250 Bangladeshi students, but only 30-35 have renewed their visas (to continue studying).
“Where the rest are, we don’t know,” he added.
During the course of its investigation, R.AGE met over 30 student trafficking victims, and found almost 30 colleges that showed signs of having worked with student traffickers.
When a R.AGE journalist posing as a prospective student went to one of these colleges, an employee quietly warned him against signing up.
“If our own people (Malaysians) come, I’ll tell them not to study here,” she said.
“Look around, the whole place is empty! I wouldn’t want any Malaysian students stuck here.”
An earlier report by The Star revealed a large number of foreign students arriving through dubious colleges in 2013.
The Ministry of Higher Education revoked the international student licence of four such institutions in 2015.
Since then, a further 26 institutions have had their licences revoked or not renewed.
Though many of these colleges can no longer enrol international students, they continue to operate by channelling students to other affiliated colleges.
“We do have something like a collaboration, a group of companies,” said the Nepali agent.
“We have a language centre and four colleges, all are like ‘joint-venture’ companies.”
He also claimed that he enrolled 3,000 Bangladeshi students at one of these colleges, but R.AGE found its campus to be nearly deserted.
“I came here to study. Only to study. But now, my dream is dashed,” said one victim.
Every year, thousands of Bangladeshi students are trafficked into Malaysia by agents promising them a college education and work opportunities.
Many of these students and their families pay a fortune to these agents, sometimes as much as four lakhs. To raise the money, some sell prized possessions, some sell land, some take loans and some remortgage their homes.
However, most of you reading this in Malaysia will know that the agents are liars. Most of you were victims of those lies. Most of you have wasted the same amount of money and the best years of your life because of those lies.
We want you to know that you are not alone. We at R.AGE and The Star have been working hard to make your stories heard, and to ensure that you get the help and support you need.
Our latest project, Student/Trafficked, aims to show everyone the injustice you have faced in Malaysia, and to get all concerned Malaysians involved in helping you. And if we can’t get everyone to help, we’ll at least get them to understand.
And remember - you are not alone. Today, Malaysia stands with you.