Forty-two Thai women who were trafficked into Malaysia are being held at a safe house in the south of the country and will be repatriated, a Malaysian official told BenarNews.
The 42 are staying at a home for women in the state of Johor after being caught entering Malaysia without proper papers, according to the director of the state’s Department of Immigration.
The Thai women are helping local authorities investigate a ring that allegedly trafficked them into the country, and they are being kept at a safe house run by the Social Welfare Department, Johor Immigration Director Rohaizi Bahari said.
“[A]fter all of them have given their statements in assisting the case, they will be sent back to their home country by the immigration authorities,” Rohaizi told BenarNews on Monday. He declined to give more details.
The Thai ambassador to Malaysia confirmed that 42 Thai women were being held at a center for women in Johor, but he only had more specific information about half of them.
Twenty-one of the 42 had left Thailand in late September and are from Pattani and Yala, two provinces in Thailand’s insurgency-stricken Deep South. The families of this batch of 21 had reported them missing after they had left for Malaysia, where they were promised jobs as snack vendors by immigration brokers, according to relatives.
“Thai consular staff, on behalf of the Thai government, will be granted permission to meet them in the women’s home in Johor Bahru on Tuesday, Nov. 15. We will try to seek Malaysia’s speediest proceeding and hope they come back to Thailand soon,” Damrong Kraikruan, the Thai ambassador to Malaysia, told BenarNews, referring the capital of the Malaysian state of Johor that borders Singapore.
According to a Malaysian police officer, this group is assisting local authorities investigate a case against two Thai nationals who have been arrested on suspicion of human trafficking.
“Now, two Thai trafficking brokers are being held on human trafficking charges. For the 21 women, officials will release them home soon after interrogation,” the officer told BenarNews on condition of anonymity, adding that the women would not face any charges.
The son of one of the women who went to Malaysia said brokers had promised her a job as a snack vendor in Johor, and that she and 20 other women had crossed into Malaysia from the southern Thai province of Songkhla.
“There were all together 21 women travelling in two pickup trucks. … They were unable to be reached, and I thought Malaysian police had arrested them because they did not have work permits,” Mamagadi Sulong, the son of 57-year-old Yala resident Hamida Salae, told BenarNews.
In nearby Pattani province, the husband of another woman said their five children have been crying since she left for Malaysia.
“My wife intended to earn money for our kids’ education. There are not many jobs in Thailand and when [brokers] asked her to go to Malaysia, so she went,” Musukri Jeho, the husband of Citi-ashisoh Lateh, told BenarNews.
When relatives of the 21 learned that their loved ones were unaccounted for in Malaysia, the brokers in Thailand asked each of them to each pay 20,000 baht (U.S. $564) as a fee to find the women, he said.
Hata Wahari in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.