Malaysiakini : To us, good journalism is about telling stories that matter, that
make a difference, that hold people accountable, that give a voice to
those who don’t have one. And that can mean anything from urban poverty
in Malaysia to disaster education in Japan. - R.AGE
COMMENT | I have been following The Star’s
R.AGE group of young journalists for some time. Admittedly, the growing
pains of this outfit were painful to observe in the early days.
However, I always thought The Star was on to something when they started this.
recent nomination of the team’s work for a Peabody Award (the second)
under the category of “Public Service” is something they should be
congratulated on, but more importantly, everyone should help spread the
word on the subject matter of their documentary.
subject matter of their documentary, I am biased. I consider human
traffickers the lowest of the low when it comes to a criminal
enterprise. Check that. I consider politicians who are in league with
these criminals as the lowest of the low. I even despise the term “human
traffickers”. These cretins are “slavers”.
The R.AGE team’s
documentary and feature story on the web of predators, survivors and
business connections from Bangladesh to Malaysia highlight the
corruption of the system and the reality that activist groups like
Tenanganita have been confronting for decades. What this
documentary about human slavery does is juxtapose the personal and the
apathy of a consumerist society on the plight of a group of people who
are more often seen as a threat to stability and social cohesion than
victims of capitalist imperatives which sustain a fast-changing economy.
Here’s is an excerpt of the scam that young people from Bangladesh are sucked into,
from reportage by R.AGE: “The most common lie the agents told is that
college students can work part-time in Malaysia on a student visa, and
that’s the crux of the scam. "In Malaysia, dozens of victims we
spoke to said this convinced their families to take out their life
savings, to sell land, to loan money, even, just to pay the agents,
thinking they could earn it back through part-time work. Saddled with
debt in a foreign country, and with an agent who could easily get you
arrested and deported, these would-be college students are then forced
to work illegally as cheap labour (often in dangerous construction
sites), all the while facing constant exploitation.”
is more than just a special interest story, that peculiar news genre
meant to tug at your heartstrings. The R.AGE team has a more specific
agenda which is to expose the black economy that sustains legitimate
commerce in this country. A detailed overview of what these
“agents” do in this country should be the starting point for the
relevant local agencies to open investigations into various crimes if
they were interested in pursuing such objectives, that is.
team interviews an agent, who is connected to a “Datuk” who supposedly
owns a college, but who is not present at what the agent thinks is a
business transaction. The agent boasts since 2013 he has brought in
8,000 Bangladeshi students and proceeds to give a low down on how this vile business works: “He can secure foreign workers for us by using the college to issue them student visas.
more, he can keep them in Malaysia for up to 10 years by enrolling them
in a succession of courses, from basic language courses and diplomas
all the way up to a PhD. “It just depends on whether you can pay the cost or not,” he says. “Everything
to do with the visa, I’m handling, so you don’t have to worry. If you
agree, and you have no objections, I can process it tomorrow.”
all engaging documentaries, this one finds the journalist investigating
nearly every aspect of the slavers trail, from, the streets of
Malaysia, to Bangladesh. In Farmgate, the epicentre of this
dark business, an agent boasted that he has contacts with the Malaysian
Embassy, and a genuine agent claimed: “Small colleges, institutes and
language centres (in Malaysia), they are involved in this business. They
are the main ring leaders. They need the students, they need the money.
Whether (the students) come for study or for work, it doesn’t matter.”
goes far beyond stereotypes of bad people doing evil things, but rather
the complicity of state actors and criminal enterprise in sustaining a
slave labour workforce that supposedly benefits the economy of this
is another worrying aspect of this story which is not explored by the
R.AGE team, but which has been a preoccupation of mine. When we talk
about human slavers, an aspect that is often missed is the reality that
if the system is so compromised when it comes to moving people in and
out of the country, how dangerous could it be for non-state actors to
smuggle extremists into this country using the same pipeline?
of religious extremists could be smuggled into the country and they
would be unwittingly aided by elements in this country who assume that
everything is business as usual. I doubt there is a vetting process when
it comes to the types of victims of these enterprises.
of these young journalists should be highlighted. Congratulations to
these young journalists for their Peabody nomination (you are in an