• Siti Munawirah Mustaffa | IOM Malaysia Communications Assistant

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia — Following his mother’s advice, *Rustam was determined to pursue his higher education, hoping to better support his family in the future. 

In 2022, the 20-year-old met in his hometown located in the eastern-most part of Uzbekistan an acquaintance, who offered to facilitate his move to Singapore where he would be able to enroll himself in a private college while also working under a student visa. Sold on the idea and filled with hope, Rustam paid almost USD 5,000 and embarked on his journey. 

Upon his arrival in Singapore, however, he was informed that his enrollment in the promised college was not valid. It was then he realized that he had been scammed. Rustam then demanded for his money to be returned, but it was denied by his acquaintance. 

Out of desperation, he travelled to Malaysia on a social visit pass in search of possibilities for work since he could not afford a ticket to travel back home. Nevertheless, his harrowing experience did not end there, as he plunged into debt with his passport held as collateral for not being able to pay for his one-month stay at the hotel. 

After weeks of attempts, Rustam eventually got hired as a waiter at a restaurant, where he was promised a reasonable monthly salary and a work permit. However, he was asked to sign an employment contract that compelled him to remain in Malaysia for a year and work 12 hours a day. Furthermore, significant deductions were imposed on his monthly salaries to cover what his employer contended as visa fees – all these conditions being clear indications of forced labour. 

“I was in a highly unstable environment where my employer would constantly yell at me over the tiniest matter. She also prohibited me from leaving the country, even when I needed to at the time when my sister was in poor health condition. I was afraid of leaving the country, considering my irregular status here, as it could cause problems at the immigration,” recalls Rustam. 

Rustam is grateful to have received help from several other Uzbeks, and to connect with a non-profit group called Uzbek Youth Organization in Malaysia, as well as IOM Malaysia. He then acquired food assistance, accommodation support and a return flight back to Uzbekistan. 

Since 2010, IOM Malaysia has assisted 991 migrants including Rustam of over 30 nationalities to safely return to their home countries.

“IOM was the first to provide me with the needed support. I highly commend the Organization for its responsive nature to appeals for help. Should anyone ever find themselves in such a desperate situation, they can seek help from the Youth Association of Uzbekistan and IOM,” says Rustam. 

Behind the look of hope and excitement of returning to his family, however, lie the memories of despair that he previously endured. Rustam is one of the thousands of migrants being lured into scams while desperately seeking work and education opportunities abroad. In response to such crime, IOM Malaysia has been working closely with embassies, Government agencies and civil society to ensure that migrants are protected, improving their access to regular migration pathways. 

Since 2010, a total of 991 migrants of over 30 nationalities have safely returned to their home countries from Malaysia through IOM’s assistance. 

Today, Rustam remains determined to pursue his studies abroad. This time around, the young man will be more vigilant with the opportunities coming his way. 

“Based on my own experience, I strongly advise against simply trusting anyone who offers you a job, especially through social media ads. It is not worth the struggles you might face in a foreign country." 


*Name has been changed to protect the identity of the individual. 

This story was written by Siti Munawirah Mustaffa, IOM Malaysia Communications Assistant,  

SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
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