They are sold the dream of a ticket to tertiary education in a foreign country, but after spending their family's entire savings, they are caught in a harsh reality - trapped in a constant cycle of exploitation and extortion.

Thousands of young Bangladeshis have been trafficked into Malaysia through obscure private colleges and their unscrupulous "agents", according to The Straits Times.

Some pay more than RM20,000 (S$6,600), equivalent to three years' wages in Bangladesh, to secure student visas and admission to these bogus colleges.

But the students soon find out that the colleges do not offer real classes, they cannot work under their visas, and there are often extra "fees" to pay.

Many students have no choice but to work illegally under dire conditions, creating a cycle of exploitation where they have to earn enough to repay their debts and go home, or to renew their student visas so they can work for another year, says the Singapore-based English-language newspaper.

"I can't go home because my family spent all their money on the agent fees," said one victim, 24, who is now working to pay his father's medical bills at home.


Journalists from The Star's (Malaysia) young investigative team R AGE met agents while posing as factory managers looking for cheap labour, infiltrated the colleges and followed the trail all the way to Dhaka, Bangladesh.

One agent told a journalist he works for a "Datuk" who owns a college in Kuala Lumpur, and he has trafficked more than 8,000 Bangladeshi students to Malaysia.

"Bangladeshi students are easy and quick money," said the agent, who is Nepali.

"Bring in 200 or 300 of them, then distribute them (among the colleges), then you'll make your money."

Many victims live and work not far from the glittering lights of Klang Valley's major towns, but are hidden from most eyes.

"Our living conditions here are worse than the garbage dumps in the slums of Dhaka," said a victim living in a makeshift ghetto in Cyberjaya. He is now a construction worker and earns around RM1,500 a month.

His family is still paying off the loan they took out to send him to Malaysia.

"In my college, there were around 200 to 250 Bangladeshi students, but only 30 to 35 students have renewed their visas (to continue studying). Where the rest are, we don't know," he added.

During the course of its investigation, the R AGE team met more than 30 trafficking victims and found almost 30 colleges that showed signs of having worked with student traffickers.

When a journalist posing as a prospective student went to one of the colleges, an employee quietly advised him against it.

"If our own people (Malaysians) come, I tell them not to study here," she said, pointing to the deserted campus.

"Look around, the whole place is empty! I wouldn't want any Malaysian students stuck here."

Following a 2013 report in The Star about foreign students arriving in Malaysia via dubious colleges, the Malaysian ministry of higher education revoked the international student licences of four such institutions in 2015.

Since then, a further 26 institutions have had their licences revoked or not renewed, though colleges continue to channel students to "affiliated" colleges.

"The Malaysian government has not been issuing visas to colleges for the past year," said Abdur Rahim Khan, chief executive of the Bangladesh Malaysia Study Centre, one of the more established student recruitment agencies in Bangladesh.

Colleges and universities were also encouraged by the higher education ministry to apply anti-trafficking guidelines proposed by R AGE.

Five colleges and universities pledged to implement these guidelines in December 2017.

Still, despite the then home minister pledging to bring those involved to justice, no syndicate leader was arrested in connection with the investigations.

"I came here to study. Only to study. But now, my dream is dashed," said one victim.