BANTEAY MEANCHEY (Cambodia), Feb 14 — “Before being put in prison here, my friends and I were ‘imprisoned’ for nearly three weeks in a three-storey bungalow.”
That was the heart-rending story related by one of the 47 Malaysians believed to have been the victims of a human trafficking syndicate and who have now been placed in detention by Cambodian authorities on suspicion of being involved in online gambling.
Speaking of how she was deceived into going to Cambodia, 23-year-old Lisa (not her real name) from Bintulu, said she was fascinated by the job offer after reading about it in an advertisement on WeChat and had no hesitation contacting the phone number shown on the message.
“The advertisement offered jobs in a five-star hotel with a salary of US$1,500 (about RM6,100) a month, apart from providing hostel accommodation and transport. The ‘agent’ even provided free flight tickets to Cambodia,” she told Bernama News Channel correspondent who visited the detainees in prison yesterday.
Lisa said she was also swayed by the fact that the agent frequently shared photographs of other Malaysians who had arrived in Cambodia earlier, telling her that they too would be working at the same hotel.
“The photographs were so convincing. I thought if they could go and work in a different country, why can’t I? After all, the flight ticket is taken care of,” she said.
Lisa reiterated that a week later, around November last year, she left Kuching, Sarawak for Kuala Lumpur before boarding a flight to the Siem Reap International Airport, where a man waiting for her at the arrival hall took her to the three-storey bungalow in the Siem Reap district.
“When I reached the bungalow, there were about eight teenage girls and about a dozen or so men in the house. They didn’t seem angry but were instead enjoying the dinner prepared by a woman chef.
“I was overjoyed at that time because everyone there were from Sarawak, and they too found out about the same hotel job offer from either the social media or through friends,” she said.
The situation became a little suspicious over the next two weeks when they were not allowed to go out of the house, with only the chef and agent were free to come and go at any time.
They then started pestering the agent about the jobs they were promised.
“We were not allowed to leave the house. The door was locked from the outside. Just imagine being trapped inside a house for three weeks.
“We began to worry because those who arrived earlier were still jobless. We peppered the agent with numerous questions, but all he did was asking us to be patient, claiming that the hotel management had yet to prepare the documents for foreign workers like us,” she said.
Then came their worst nightmare.
According to Lisa, everything changed in the third week when they were all shocked by the repeated knocks on the door by people claiming to be the police.
The chef, who happened to be there at that time, told them to hurry down to the lower level of the bungalow and to hide in an underground room.
“I’ve been at the bungalow for nearly three weeks, and that was the first time we realised there was an underground room. We panicked and followed her instructions, but the authorities found us and took us all to the police station,” she said.
Lisa said that apart from the raid on the bungalow, she learnt that the authorities also raided another premises housing other Sarawakians, who suffered the same fate.
She said that after being detained on Dec 11 and spending a night in the lock-up, they were transferred to the Banteay Meanchey Provincial Prison.
“I regret falling for the scam because even though jobs in Bintulu do not pay that much, at least I wouldn’t be so far away from my family,” she said, adding that she hoped to be freed soon. — Bernama