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August 21, 2017

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Coffee with a human trafficker

PETALING JAYA - He was in shirtsleeves and leather shoes, hair slicked neat, his demea­nour courteous but confident.

We were in a cafe somewhere in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur. I ordered coffee, but he politely declined.

It's not quite how people imagine a human trafficking syndicate to operate, but having met two other agents previously, businesslike was expected. After all, I was posing as a factory manager looking to hire migrant labour, and he was offering me the service of procuring them.

Except he is a representative of an established college in Kuala Lumpur, offering to smuggle them in using student visas. He is what I call a "student trafficker", an agent who recruits international students with lies and deception, then exploits them for profit.

After the pleasantries, I play the unconvinced client to get him going. He takes the bait, boasting: "If you are talking about Bangladeshi students, no-one knows better than me. I brought in 8,000 Bangladeshi students on my own."

"Since when?"

"Since 2013."

I do the math in my head. Eight thousand is over a quarter of the total Bangladeshi student population in Malaysia. Each student pays between RM15,000 and RM20,000 for an education agent's services. If this agent only pockets a 1 per cent profit from that fee, he would be a millionaire.

And he claims to be able to get each Bangladeshi a student visa of up to 10 years, by simply shifting the student among the four or five educational institutions that are part of a "joint venture" partnership.

Shocking numbers. But to a businessman, it's always a numbers game. And in this case, the commodity being traded is students, who can easily be exploited to work.

"The only place to earn quick and easy money is through Bangladeshi students," he explains.

"Just bring in 200, 300 students and distribute them, and you will earn your money back."

It was like talking about crates of canned food, or bundles of clothes, or livestock when, in fact, these are 8,000 young boys and girls who lost their education, their families' life savings, and the best years of their lives.

But nothing personal for these people. It's just business.

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