Thai lure: Rescued youths recount days of bonded labour, torture

These job aspirants were ‘promised’ data entrant posting in a reputed company with a salary of $1,100 (Rs 89,773) per month and other benefits.
Representative image
Representative image

CHENNAI: A month ago, on October 4, as many as 13 IT professionals from Tamil Nadu, who were held captive in Myawaddy, Myanmar by a Chinese scamming ring were rescued and brought back to the State. These job aspirants were ‘promised’ data entrant posting in a reputed company with a salary of $1,100 (Rs 89,773) per month and other benefits.

Among them, P Kumar (29) and Stephen Wesley (29) from Coimbatore applied for the job after Stephen’s cousin sister Shasi Suresh came to hear about it from her ex-colleague, Shankar. In hopes of earning more money and securing a better future, both paid Shankar Rs 1,60,000 and Rs 1,80,000 for visa and accommodation respectively.

By June end, after payments were made, Kumar and Stephen were added to a WhatsApp group consisting of all aspirants and called for an in-person interview at Dubai Investments Park (DIP), Dubai. Speaking to DT Next, Kumar said: “Stephen and I were put up at a place in Sharjah. Shankar and Dayana, who introduced themselves as agents for the company, escorted us to DIP every day for an interview.

“We visited every day and the boss always seemed unavailable at the office. On the 10th day of our stay, the officials via video call conducted an interview and we were selected. We were asked to pack and get ready for our flight to Thailand the next day (July 9).”

The aspirants were informed that on reaching Bangkok they would be picked up by locals who will escort them to their stay. “We sat in the vehicle and after about 7 hours and travelling 500 km we were in a desolate forest area. Our nervousness peaked, but with the driver not replying, we texted the group when the admin asked us to remain calm.

“After getting down in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by trees and a river flowing through, the locals loaded our luggage on a boat and asked us to row to the other side. On reaching, our passports were checked by two men in army uniforms. We entered the office and unbeknownst to us, that was the last of our freedom,” said the 29-year-old.

“First few days were normal. We were assigned roles, underwent training, given ID cards, and phones. On our offs, we were allowed to roam around the camp and even our working hours were 12 hours a day. Suddenly one day, our boss, a Chinese man named Wong, told us we would have to create and handle a fake account on Instagram to scam business tycoons and others into investing in crypto to swindle their money,” he recalled.

When the group refused and wanted to leave, Wong asked them to pay $4,000 as compensation as he claimed to have bought them from the agents for Rs 2,00,000. Not having the money to pay, the captives complied. Despite being in touch with their family, the captives did not reveal what was happening fearing how they would take the news.

With the cat out of the bag, Wong did not hold back and went all out abusing his employees. They worked 16 hours a day without breaks. They were handcuffed and beaten for every mistake at work, put to starvation, and given extra work and even electric shocks. They were also threatened to be sold off if they created further problems. Having had enough, one of the captives from Punjab called his father, an ex-military man and explained the situation.

After paying the money and leaving, he tried helping other captives. His father approached the Indian embassy for help. With not so encouraging response, he approached the Myanmar army. After staying at the company for 45 days, on August 16, the captives were rescued and dropped off at the river bank from where they were supposed to find their way back.

Shortly after, the group was detained by the Thai army. After a series of confinement in detention centres, their plight was known to the outside world after a video of them got circulated in the media. A journalist from Tamil Nadu contacted the group and gave them the contact of the Director, Rehabilitation and Welfare of Non-Resident Tamils, Jacintha Lazarus.

On October 4, the Minister of Minorities Welfare, Non-Resident Tamils Welfare, Refugees and Evacuees and Wakf Board, KS Masthan received the rescuees from the airport.

“I regret having spent whatever money I had for a job that did not even exist. But on the other hand, I’m glad to have made it out alive and unharmed. It has now become difficult for me to trust people and I’m working through it. At the moment, looking for a job has become my top priority,” Kumar said.

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