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CAMERON HIGHLANDS, Jan 8, 2015:

Ram (not his real name), a Nepalese worker in his 40s, was detained by the authorities while working at his farm in Blue Valley more than two weeks ago. This, despite showing his passport to enforcement officers. He was told to “shut up” instead. Ram claimed that a soldier even pointed a submachine gun at him and ordered him to move along in a fierce manner. “I was brought to a detention centre in Brinchang where I was asked to surrender my possessions, including my wallet, handphone and passport, which they did not even bother to look at. “The following day, I was transported to a detention centre in Kuala Terengganu in a lorry,” said Ram, who just arrived back in Cameron Highlands earlier today. His employer had to collect him and other workers from a detention centre in Ipoh, where they were brought prior to being released. A Bangladeshi, who just wanted to be named as Hari, also claimed that he was detained and sent to Kuala Terengganu. He said conditions were appalling throughout the journey, right from the moment they were bundled into lorries that transported them out of Cameron Highlands. Hari claimed foreigners were handcuffed together, eight persons at a time, and there were almost “a hundred people” loaded onto the lorry. “We could neither sit nor stand properly, as we knocked against each other. “Some would become dizzy or, worse, vomited due to the rough ride which lasted many hours.”

Hari alleged they were only fed twice a day during detention, during lunch time and dinner, with the menu consisting of plain rice, fish and “mostly cabbages”. They also had to sleep on a cement floor with only a piece of cloth as bedding, alleged Hari. He said the Malaysian authorities could have shown a little compassion or understanding by releasing those with valid work permits instead of holding them for two weeks. However, he noted that the authorities had kept his belongings safe, which was returned to him on being released. “These days, the foreign workers seldom go out as their bosses will scold them. “The employers know it will be a really big hassle if their workers are detained, even if they are legal.”

Ramesh, 30, from Pokhara in Nepal, said he would never recommend his countrymen to work in Cameron Highlands. He said the foreign worker agents in Nepal had painted a rosy picture of life in Cameron Highlands, with a salary of at least RM1,800 a month. “We were told that our job would involve mostly packing flowers, with a day’s rest every week. “In reality, it was tough farm work seven days a week, with a salary from as low as RM900,” said Ramesh.

He had paid RM3,000 as fees to get a job in Cameron Highlands. He said he tried to warn his relatives and friends back in Nepal, but there were always those who fell for the “sweet words of the agents”.

In November last year, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak ordered the police and the armed forces to launch a major crackdown against illegal land clearing in Cameron Highlands, following reports that such activities were done by illegal immigrants, especially at night. The activities had been blamed for floods and landslides at Kampung Raja, Ringlet and Lembah Bertam in the Cameron Highlands on Nov 5, which left five people dead. Since then, many foreign workers have been hiding in farms and refused to go out for fear of being indiscriminately detained.

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