Sunday, June 23, 2024

“Escape from Hell: Survivors Speak Out About Human Trafficking Ordeal in the “Wa” Region

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There are 11 individuals, consisting of seven men and four women, confined in a cramped 15-foot room and provided with insufficient food just to keep them barely alive.

Ma Hsu Nyein shared her harrowing experience of being confined in a tight room with seven men and four women, saying, “We were given only one meal a day, which consisted of incredibly sour pickled mustard. We had no choice but to eat it. We had to drink water from the toilet. We were treated like pigs.”

A room where the victims were confined for a month without spare clothing
A room where the victims were confined for a month without spare clothing.

Ma Hsu Nyein stated that the group would receive 11 packs of plain rice some days, but only one piece of chicken to share, which appeared to be deliberately intended to cause tension and arguments among them.

Ma Su Nyein, who was pregnant at the time, was confined to a cramped room for five days, and the lack of sufficient food left her unable to walk properly.

Ma Hsu Nyein and her companions were forced to resort to drinking water from the bathroom due to the inadequate and unappetizing meals provided by the company.

Ma Hsu Nyein’s family became unemployed during the Covid-19 period. In order to repay the money they had borrowed in three years, the husband and wife planned to travel to Mine Pauk, a UWSA-controlled town, with the hope of earning (4,000) Chinese Yuan, or roughly 1600,000 MMK.

Number boxes of plain rice with only one piece of steamed chicken
Number boxes of plain rice with only one piece of steamed chicken.

As a result, they traveled from Mandalay to Mine Pauk through Lashio in early January.

After reaching Mine Pauk, Ma Hsu Nyein and her husband intended to work for Zi Kyint Company, which required computer skills and basic knowledge of English. However, upon their arrival, they were forced to join the fraudulent Kyar Pyant work instead.

This work is a difficult task for Ma Hsu Nyein, and on 27th February, her hopes and dreams began to fade away.

The company’s contract stated that the group would receive payment for half a month’s work (15 days). However, they did not receive their wages, and as a result, they went to the Mine Pauk police station on February 27 to initiate negotiations.

“On the first day of work, we signed an 8-month contract. We did not get our first month’s pay after starting work. We went to Mine Pauk police station to discuss with the company since we had to work overtime as well. At the police station, there was also an interpreter. The employer then dismissed us and demanded that we pay compensation. We were jailed at the police station for five days since we were unable to pay the compensation,” Ma Hsu Nyein described the experience.

Rice with pickled mustard
Rice with pickled mustard.

Ma Hsu Nyein and the rest of the group were brought in by the company on the 3rd of March, after being detained for 5 days in the Chinese-speaking police station in Mine Pauk. They were all locked up in an apartment room on the 5th of March.

“We were placed to the same room. We were not provided with blankets, pillows, or a mattress. We were compelled to live with just a single pair of clothing. The room was cold. Our belongings were kept outside,” Ma Hsu Nyein recounted of their stay in the locked room.

The 11 individuals who were held captive in the cramped room come from diverse ethnic backgrounds and different locations. The group consisted of two Shan women from Hsipaw, three Ta-ang men from Lashio, one man from Nam Kham, in Northern Shan State and four people from lower Burma. Each individual has their own dreams and goals.

On March 22, 2023, Ma Hsu Nyein, along with two women from Hsipaw, three men from Lashio, and a man from Nam Kham, were released from captivity in the Wa region after paying 4,000,000 MMK.

However, Ma Hsu Nyein’s husband and three other men are still being held by the Zi Kyint company.

The contract signed in Chinese which Ma Hsu Nyein did not understand
The contract signed in Chinese which Ma Hsu Nyein did not understand.

“I was not required to pay any compensation to the company upon my release. The others were required to pay the company 4,000,000 MMK Kyats in compensation. They demanded 9,000,000 MMK for my husband’s release, as well as compensation for me. If we can’t pay them, they won’t let my husband leave,” said Ma Hsu Nyein.

With the exception of Ma Hsu Nyein, the other individuals were confined to a room for nearly a month with only a single item of clothing.

On March 9th, the employees of Zi Kyint Company entered the room where they were being held to provide them with food. However, they also subjected everyone to electric shocks and physical pain, except for Ma Hsu Nyein.

“They came inside the room on March 9th to offer the group a meal. After a while, they returned to the room and stunned all 10 persons with electric shocks. They also beat them with sticks and dragged them into the working room. One of the girls among those detained was also torched with electric shock,” Ma Hsu Nyein emotionally recalled.

Despite being an autonomous region, the UWSA-controlled area has seen widespread human rights violations and abuse. Workers in the region have reported unjust labor practices and physical abuse, and those attempting to leave their jobs have been forced to pay high compensation fees.

Ma Hsu Nyein made a remark that she had only experienced such mistreatment in the “Wa” area.

“We were required to pay 4,000,000 MMK. They were not beaten, but one of the married guys was,” stated the older sister of a Lashio man who was freed after paying compensation.

The company insisted on compensation from individuals who had already received payment for their journey to the area, as well as for the fee charged by intermediary brokers. The male translator from Zi Kyint Company stated the reason why they have to pay compensation.

Bruises from beatings
Bruises from beatings.

” Yes, they were only released after paying a compensation of 4,000,000 MMK. Six more individuals have been released recently. It is necessary to pay because the brokers received a fee from the company,” the translator stated bluntly.

“I was beaten by a man,” confirmed Ma Su Nyein.

When it comes to the mistreatment and confinement of individuals in the room, the interpreter remarked, “my role was solely that of an interpreter. Other than that, I’m not sure. I have no knowledge of what took place inside the apartments.”

The UWSA’s liaison officer in Lashio was not able to get contacted, to give a comment on the allegations of human trafficking, the widespread of fraudulent companies, and mistreatment in the “Wa ” region.

Rescuers of human trafficking victims have also reported that the situation in the “Wa” region has worsened over the past two years, with even foreign nationals being trafficked, according to the sources.

Sai Kawn, who is providing support to the victims, reported that in November 2022, the Alliance Anti Trafficking (AAT) team successfully rescued three Thai women who had been trafficked in the “Wa” region of Mong Pauk.

According to those who have been monitoring cases of human trafficking, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and before the military coup, most of the reported cases involved cross-border trafficking between Myanmar and China or Thailand. However, with the current situation, there has been an increase in internal trafficking within the country, the sources noted.

Ma Hsu Nyein advised that despite the difficulties people may be facing, they should not trust brokers and seek employment in the “Wa” region.

Ma Hsu Nyein strongly discouraged people from going to the “Wa” region for employment, saying “I don’t want anyone to go there anymore. It’s not worth it, as you will only lose your time, energy, and money. There is nothing to gain by going there.”

While Ma Hsu Nyein is concerned about her pregnancy, it is difficult for her to raise 9,000,000 kyats to evacuate her husband, who remains in the “Wa” area. As a result, she is now experiencing a great deal of difficulty.

Ma Hsu Nyein’s voice quivered as she expressed her financial struggles in evacuating her husband, saying “I’m at a loss on where to find such a large sum of money. I don’t know what to do next, and I am hoping that those who can help us will do so.”

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