We’ve Been Watching – Unreported World: Refugees For Sale

by Lynn Connolly


As ever, Unreported World brought us a story that defied belief in this – supposedly – enlightened age where human rights and equality should be a given.

They are not, and Aidan Hartley, who looks more like he should be presenting University Challenge or something similarly gentle, ventured yet again into a largely ignored corner of the world where thousands are living in the worst kinds of squalor, poverty, and are treated no better than cattle.

And what makes it infinitely worse is that it’s these peoples own government employees who are responsible for using them as currency. In the same way other governments might trade in bullion, in Malaysia, humans are a saleable commodity.

The outlook for thousands of Malaysians is bleak enough; they live in fear of a vicious military regime and for those who try to escape it, they face being traded by immigration officials whose main source of income is in trafficking these poor, impoverished people.

Aidan and the documentary’s Director, George Waldrum, travelled to Kuala Lumpur to witness first hand how the phrase ‘out of the frying pan into the fire’ has never been more literally apt. Stay put and face living in the terrifying shadow of a state where violence and sadism are the norm, or leave and face being imprisoned – or far worse – indefinitely.

And as if those two fates weren’t hideous enough, thousands of men, women and children simply disappear and it’s suspected that they are sold into prostitution and slavery. Then there are the self-governing RELA, a voluntary organisation whose members trawl the streets looking for illegal immigrants. It’s an organisation that’s 500,000 strong and which claims to be working towards improving civil rights, however, one interviewee told Aidan how RELA operatives had burst into her home, beaten and arrested all her family members.

Another suggested that RELA as well as the police extort money and possessions from citizens using the threat of detention if they don’t get what they want. We heard too how many of the estimated two million illegal immigrants hide out in hastily assembled shanty towns bordering the jungle in order to minimise the risk of being caught.

Shocking stories of the horrors that can befall these vulnerable people were many, but one that truly sickened me was told by Rahima, a mother who told Aidan that she and her children had been sold by immigration officials and ended up in the hands of gang members in Thailand. And it was one of those gangsters who suffocated one of her children because he wouldn’t stop crying.

In a series that’s widely accepted to be at the forefront of raw and true journalistic endeavour – routinely revealing global shocking underbellies and rotten-to-the-core regimes – this film stood out amongst its peers for the sheer horror that it exposed.

And those brave enough to expose it, such as Aidan and George, risk their lives to do so and should be heartily applauded for it. It’s only through such fearlessness and determination to bring to light these incredible stories that, historically, the world’s dictators and brutal regimes have been overthrown.

Let’s hope the same can be said for Malaysia. And soon.

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.