I was sold seven times, says Rohingya refugee

Rohigya refugee Ziaur Rahman tells of the horrors of life as a victim of human traffickers.

PETALING JAYA: Rohingya refugee Ziaur Rahman, then 20, was kidnapped while he was walking around his settlement in Bangladesh and sold a total of seven times over the next three months.

He said he was kidnapped by people who were themselves from the refugee camps. “They mix around with the Bangladeshi and Myanmarese and Rohingyas. You cannot identify them,” he said.

Life was already a struggle in the squalid conditions at the camp in Cox’s Bazaar. “I was walking around the camp when three people came and took me to a place at the river nearby. They started kicking me and punching me.”

His hands were tied and he could not fight back. “They kept me there for three hours. I was crying, and I was scared because they had guns, and they were dangerous.”

Eventually, the traffickers forced him on to a small boat, where he spent the next three days at sea with no food or water, and then moved into a big ship, where he was among 300 other human trafficking victims.

He said he knew the number, as the traffickers did a head count every day, to know how many had died and how many were still alive.

The victims were cramped together on the lower deck, with no toilets, poor air circulation, and barely any food. At times, they were forced to drink sea water.

“The trafficker used to beat everyone. I think there were five women who were staying with the traffickers, who were assaulted, harassed and raped,” he said.

After a month at sea, Ziaur and the other “boat people” landed in Thailand. They were broken up into smaller groups, and transported to the hundreds of human trafficking camps all over Thailand.

He said he and others were beaten, tortured with a whip, and kept in small cages.

They were also harassed for money, and some were forced to phone their families to transfer money to the traffickers.

He said he saw women being raped in front of his eyes. “Some camps there is no roof, some camps had no partitions. At night, there was no light in the jungle,” he said.

The traffickers were often in cahoots with authorities and caretakers at shelters.

He was rescued by Thai officials, who transferred him to a shelter home in Songkhla, where, he alleged, the shelter officer was involved in human trafficking.

In November 2014, he was brought to Malaysia on motorcycle by two Thai men.

“After a few hours, two Malaysians in green uniforms came and took me by car to Penang. At a petrol station in Penang, the Malaysians took money from two Bangladeshis, who then took him to a kampung house, where there were other trafficked refugees.

Eventually, he escaped, and took to begging on the streets until a Malay family took him in and helped Ziaur get to Kuala Lumpur, where he managed to go to the United Nationas refugee agency, UNHCR.

“I had wanted to go back to Bangladesh, but they couldn’t help me. Now I’m forced to stay here,” he said.

Ziaur, now 25, hopes tougher action will be taken to curb human trafficking. “Every day new people come in. It’s a big syndicate. The government of Malaysia needs to work hard to investigate.”

Although he is now free from the grip of the traffickers, Ziaur says life as a refugee in Malaysia is still not easy, with limited employment and education opportunities available.