Ko Wunna is a 28-year-old resident of Burma's former capital, Rangoon, who was trafficked to Malaysia by gangs importing illegal workers in a constantly revolving racket in which, former participants say, the Malaysian police are also complicit.
In the second part of an in-depth interview, Ko Wunna speaks to RFA Burmese service reporter Kyaw Min Htun about his experiences over three months working for a trafficking gang in the region in and around northern Malaysia's Kedah province, which borders Songkhla and Yala provinces in Thailand.
The Malaysian government has recently pledged to investigate claims made by many other Burmese such as Ko Wunna.
RFA: In the three months that you were with the human traffickers, how many times did the Malaysian immigration authorities bring the Burmese to the traffickers' camp, and how many Burmese did you actually see being brought in to the camp?
Ko Wunna: There were a lot of them. After they were released from immigration to be deported, they were brought over to the traffickers by the immigration authorities. There would be about 60 in each group, and they would bring about three groups in a month.
Some of them asked for money from their families. If they could not get money from their homes ... they were beaten and were given meals only once a day. They were allowed to phone their families only once a day to ask for money for their release. When they called, and if there was no possibility that they would get the money, the trafficker would grab the phone and hit them across the face, making sure the person at the other end of the phone could hear it. The trafficker would then ask the person at the other end whether they had heard.
RFA: Now that the border crossing into Thailand is closed, a lot of foreigners are detained and waiting in the Malaysian immigration detention centers. There must be many Burmese detained there. Ko Wunna, are the Malaysian immigration authorities still sending those who have been released to where you were working?
KW: Yes, they are still sending them.
RFA: How did you manage to get away from the traffickers?
KW: I had been working with them for more than three months. So I asked them whether I would have to go on in this manner. I told them that if I had been working somewhere else I would have worked enough to pay off my debt. So they said it was okay if I wanted to go but that, if I kept on working with them, I would be paid 50 ringgit a day, with all other expenses paid plus a clothing allowance as well. But I did not dare work for them. I was afraid of them. Beating people is not in my nature.
RFA: In the group where you worked, who was the leader and where did they come from?
KW: They are all Mons [Burmese ethnic group]. They are led by the Mons. But their big boss is Thai. When they had received enough cash, their big boss would come and collect it, say 40-50-60 thousand ringgit. A list had to be sent showing how many had been released, how many had paid, and how many were still left. They would call when there was enough money to be collected, and then the big boss would come. When he came, he would threaten those who had not paid. He would say that if they did not pay they would be sold to the Indonesian fishing boats.
RFA: Have you been in touch with your parents since you were released?
KW: No. When I was first arrested, I telephoned my home. I talked to my sister. I could not speak to my mother or my other siblings. They were all away from home working somewhere else. My sister asked what would happen if they could not give the money. I told her that I would be sold off to the fishing boats under a five-year plan where I would have to work on the boats without seeing land for five years. It would be hard labor.
If I could not do the work, or if I were sick or if I disobeyed them or argued with them, I would be shot and killed. Even if I was sick, they would not give me medical treatment but would shoot me because I would be a bother for them. So I really never had a choice. My sister told me that was not good and that she would appeal to the traffickers. I told her that would not be possible because the traffickers would vehemently reject any appeals and negotiations.
RFA: Now, as you were working in Malaysian territory, what do you think is the relationship between the Malaysian authorities and the human traffickers?
KW: They are in the Alor Setar area. They say that their boss is connected to the police stations in [Alor Setar, Changlum, and Jitra], and so they could do whatever they liked in the area. They said that when they were dealing with me, they could have killed me and that, after killing me, they would not have had to run or worry about being sent to jail. They said they would just have had to make a telephone call, and that my body would have been taken away and sent down the river and the spot would then be washed so that no trace was left.
They said they could just sit and not be bothered about it. I have seen their boss with a gun in his belt, especially when he is drunk and would reach for cigarettes from his pocket. Each day when the police patrol came, they would ask for money from the traffickers and would be given about 100-150 ringgit.
RFA: Ko Wunna, if you were able to tell your experiences, your feelings, and what you have seen to the United Nations, the international organizations, and international authorities, what would you like to say to them?
KW: In our country the economic situation is bad, and because we could not make a living there we had to go to other countries to find work. If our authorities were considerate, all they would have to do is tell other countries that Burma's economic situation is bad and [ask them] to allow Burmese to work in those countries. If they did that, the leaders of the organizations in other countries would not have allowed us to be treated badly, as they have been doing now. But now, instead of helping us, our government is saying that we were not living in our country and that we are thieves, and that they can do whatever they want with us. So they treat us badly.
So we can no longer work properly. When we were living in our country, the authorities oppressed us and made our lives miserable. When we left our country and came over here, they would not help us, so our lives are difficult here as well. On top of that, we get arrested, and when we are sent to the borders to be deported, the human traffickers take advantage of us and bully us. We came here to earn some money. Instead we have to ask for money from home for our release. Trying to get hold of 2,000 ringgit is not an easy thing in Burma.
Original reporting in Burmese by Kyaw Min Htun. Burmese service director: Nancy Shwe. Translated by Soe Thinn. Edited for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie.