The untold story behind the rescue of Malaysian job scam victims from Myanmar

Letter to editor

MANY who think that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and his Madani government fall short of their expectations may find that this writer begs to differ.

This story also shows that journalists have a bigger mission than just reporting mundane news. With their pens and network of government leaders they come in contact with in their course of work, they should engage in meaningful missions like this where 121 job scam victims were brought home from Myanmar last Friday (Dec 1).

This story is based on intensive discussions over a week between this writer and both informant and several government leaders.

The untold story

The word Madani means ‘civilised’ and this is exactly how a senior member of the Madani cabinet responded when he was first informed that there is quite a sizeable number of Malaysians stranded in Myanmar.

In an interview with The Star at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) on Friday (Dec 1), Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Datuk Mohamad Alamin affirmed that the entire mission was made possible as a result of Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof’s recent visit to China.

According to the Kimanis MP, Fadillah had secured the agreement from his counterpart, Chinese vice-premier Liu Guozhong to relax China’s border control in order for Malaysians rescued from job scam centres in Myanmar to enter into Kunming.

Initially, the government thought the list was only 26 people. “When we activated our operations to bring them back, more and more Malaysians were identified in the weeks that followed,” said Alamin.

Soon, the number swelled to a total of 128 Malaysians with most of them had their travel documents confiscated by the syndicates. The bilateral ties between Malaysia and China have enabled these victims to cross the border into Kunming.

This was also attested by a lady pastor Lilian Yap of ACTS Agapetos Christian Training and Services who gave the same feedback.

Concerted effort

“My network of local pastors in Myanmar were concerned about the safety of nine Malaysians who were stranded in Myanmar,” she said. “They told me that the China border authority is also very sympathetic towards the job scam victims.”

The initial plan was to evacuate from Myanmar before thinking of how to raise funds to bring them home. The entire cost – including the ticket on AirAsia – was estimated to be around RM800 to RM1,000 per person.

Despite not knowing the pastor personally, this writer channelled her information to a senior cabinet minister and several government backbenchers for their further investigation.

In April 2019, one of the 47 Malaysians claiming to be victims of a job scam in Cambodia was suspected to be part of a VoIP scam ring (Pic credit: Khmer Times)

A senior DAP member Datuk Ngeh Koo Ham said he was confident that Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Zambry Abdul Kadir would solve the problem as Ngeh had personally referred a few cases to and they were resolved. He and Zambry enjoy a good working relationship since the time when the latter was Perak MB.

After several round of discussions, the government also realised that there were more than just 26 Malaysians that they had initially been informed. This was how the cabinet decision was made last week to charter a plane to fly the victims back to Malaysia.

But arrangement had to be made quickly to ferry the victims from Myanmar to the borders. In the end, all nine Malaysians on the pastor’s list have returned safely on the chartered flight.

The Madani differentiation

The whole episode, as we read in the news, would not have been possible if the Madani government had not chartered the flight or if Fadillah had not intervened to seek Liu’s help to allow safe passage for these victims.

Everyone, including Zambry and his staff, put intensive efforts together in a civilised manner to make the rescue work possible.

The night before the plane’s arrival, this writer was asked by a personal friend if a 28-year-old adult with special needs was on the list of people returning home. The mother had broken down with tears while sharing her request for prayers at her church. Imagine the joy now on the mother’s face on Friday morning to see her son returning home safely!

It is believed that there are still a number of Malaysian job scam victims who are currently stranded in places that are controlled by the syndicates.

The office of the United Nation’s High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) estimated at least 120,000 people in strife-torn Myanmar and roughly 100,000 in Cambodia who “may be held in situations where they are forced to carry out online scams”. – Dec 4, 2023


Stephen Ng
Kuala Lumpur

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

Main pic credit: The Star

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