HH is 29 years old. Hailing from one of many islands of the Arakan coast, he has been a fisherman all his life. He had a small 2 man boat which he used to go out to sea with to fish.
But it seems, every military or military linked agency came to ask him to do forced labour. Forced labour to cut wood for the brick kiln. Forced labour to build buns for the military controlled prawn farm. Even forced labour to sow and reap rice from the military owned rice fields. As these “requests” came from different sections of the military, he could not turn any of them down. If he refused, they threatened to torture and jail his wife and parents. And so he ended up being forced to pay multiple compensation instead. Most of the money he made selling the fish he caught went to pay his way out of forced labour. He ran out of money, causing his wife to leave him and his baby boy.
And so, unable to make a living and with his family under constant threat of detention and torture, he fled to Malaysia in 2004. He was arrested 2 to 3 months after that, spending 4 months in a prison in Alor Setar and a further 4 months in a detention centre before being deported to the border. In Thailand, he worked for a few months in Phuket before finding work in a glove factory near Danok. But life was difficult, he says. He was arrested 3 times that year, and those without money to pay their way out will be sold to fishermen in Indonesia. So he decided to make his way back into Malaysia, where he ended up at a furniture factory. He left after 3 months because they only paid him RM18 a day. Now he works processing dried squid. He complains of not being paid overtime, working from 7.30 in the morning sometimes up to 8 or 9 at night. But it seems as if he hasn’t got much of a choice at the moment.
“My cousin who is a teacher ran away to the Thai-Myanmar border and called me up, telling me its too dangerous to go back home. My brother was jailed for not having any work license, and my other brother is always being harassed by the police”.