For years, Justine, a fisherman from Anchuthengu, survived on the meagre earnings from the fishing season and supplemented it by driving an autorickshaw. At the age of 47, when he heard of a chance to make it big in Malaysia, he jumped at it. He, along with 17 others from Anchuthengu and a person from Kollam, had to go through hell over the past three months, getting stranded in a far-flung area in Malaysia, with no passport and a lapsed visiting visa. Last week, with the help of the Indian embassy and the NoRKA-Roots, they managed to get back home.
“We had heard that Sanal, an autorickshaw driver from our place, was living comfortably in Malaysia. He told us to contact Lal from Kadakkal, who put us in touch with Mekhala Enterprises, a recruiting agency. They promised us a job that would get us 90 ringgits (₹1,500) per day. Each of us paid ₹75,000 to the agency to get to Kuala Lumpur. At the Kochi airport, with an hour to go for the flight, we realised that they had given us a visiting visa, and not an employment visa,” says Justine. Their ordeal began on October 24.
From the Kuala Lumpur airport, they were taken to Johor, 330 kilometres away. Their passports and visa were taken from them. Some of them were taken to a plastic factory nearby, where they were made to work for 12 hours a day. They realised from others at the factory that they would not get wages or valid work visas.
“It was clear that they wanted to keep us as slaves in their factory or to sell as cheap labour. We stayed in a godown-like hostel for 34 days. They told us that we would never be able to get out, as either we would be caught by the police or end up in the hands of gangsters. Luckily, we got in touch with Manu, a Tamil Nadu native, who had become a Malaysian citizen. He took the risk to get us to the Indian embassy, where we have been staying since November end,” says Varghese Sebastian. The fishermen were clueless about the recruiting agency.
Their relatives requested the Chief Minister and NoRKA to bring them back. With the help of the Indian embassy, new passports and exit passes were provided to them. NoRKA provided them tickets to fly back on January 7. They had to pay a fine of more than 1,100 ringgits (₹19,000) each for overstaying.
NoRKA-Roots CEO K. Harikrishnan Namboothiri said many continued to fall into the trap of illegal recruiting agencies, despite several awareness campaigns. “Under the Ministry of External Affairs, there are 1,240 approved agencies. A foreign agency can recruit from here only through one of these approved agencies. Cases like this will be considered as illegal migration. It will be hard even for the embassy to intervene. Action will be taken against illegal recruiters,” he says.