KUALA LUMPUR: The families of eight youths believed to have been duped into working for syndicates overseas have come forward, pleading for their safe return.
Having little to no information on the whereabouts of their relatives, the families are hoping that the authorities will help.
One family member, who wanted to be known only as Chen, said his 24-year-old younger sister had flown to Thailand with six friends to work there through arrangements made by a syndicate.
Chen, from Hulu Selangor, said he was not aware that his sister had left the country.
"I only learned about her situation from one of her friends, who said they were let go by the syndicate not long after arriving and left to their own devices.
"I am not sure of her location, but she and three male friends were apparently detained while trying to cross the Thai border from Myanmar," he said.
Chen noted that his sister had never spoken of her intention to work overseas to anyone in the family.
One parent, Mr Chai from Teluk Intan, said he had no idea if his 24-year-old son, missing since March 9, had been detained overseas.
Another parent, Madam Yong, said her 22-year-old son was duped into working in Thailand, and had asked for money to secure his freedom.
She said he had secretly travelled to Thailand with a friend on Jan 19 and only informed her by telephone three days later.
"My son was an undergraduate in China and came back after the Covid-19 pandemic.
"His passport has expired and I suspect he travelled there through the rat lanes," she said, adding that she had also lodged a police report.
Yong, from Puchong, said attempts to call or text her son were unsuccessful at times because her son told her that he was not allowed to have a phone while at work.
"On March 13, I got to talk to him when he contacted me using another number.
"He told me it was hard there, that he was made to work up to 16 hours a day, or he would get beaten up," she said.
The next day, her son called her from his own number, crying and begging for her to pay RM100,000 to set him free.
"I was devastated because I could not afford it.
"Then the next day, he called and said the people there agreed to reduce the price to RM60,000," she said, adding that the price was eventually lowered to RM25,000 and the balance would be "sorted out" by someone in Malaysia.
"I have not paid anything so far," she said, adding that she believed her son was in Myanmar.
MCA Public Services and Complaints Bureau chief Datuk Seri Michael Chong said it was believed that the syndicate abandoned the seven youths when news reports of their plight garnered considerable attention, including from the authorities.
He said initial investigations showed that the four who were arrested – Chen's sister and her friends – were now in the Mae Sot district, a border town in western Thailand.
"Ever since such syndicates and cases were uncovered, not even 10% of Malaysian youths involved have been rescued so far.
"Our latest records show that there are 18 Malaysian youths duped to go to Myanmar.
"Eight of them were rescued two days ago and in custody of immigration authorities there, pending further action," he said.
He called on Malaysian youths not to fall prey to syndicates or fall for job advertisements promising high pay.
"Malaysians generally speak some English and are preferred by these syndicates. Think before making any hasty decisions.
"Why would they want Malaysians to go over there to work? Don't they have people there who are interested?" he said.
Chong also noted that his department would work together with MCA National Youth executive secretary Goh Boon Huat to help with these cases.