21-year-old resident of Irkutsk Sergei Kuzmin and 20-year-old student from Moscow Ekaterina Neyasova, while in Dubai, found a tempting offer from a Chinese employer: to simply be models of Slavic appearance, negotiate with Europeans and Americans. The guys were promised a good salary – from two thousand dollars.
– They also clarified that we will work as so-called models – calling people from Europe. They say that the company needs people with European appearance, since Europeans do not trust the Chinese. This explained our high salary. The company itself is located in Myanmar, and the employer will pay for our tickets there. A few days after the interview, we flew to Myanmar,” says Sergei.
To begin with, employers offered them to record a video business card in English, then undergo a video interview. A few days later the guys flew to Myanmar.
At the airport of Yangon, the capital of Myanmar, they were met by an employee with a sign on which the names of Sergei and Catherine were written. The guys were taken to the hotel, saying that they would soon be invited to the company’s office. However, days passed, and still no invitation was received.
— We lived in the hotel for about a week. Every day we were assured that they would pick us up soon, that the company was simply preparing a work office for us. But then they said that the company’s office is not in Yangon, but in the city of Mandalay (the second largest city in Myanmar). The company paid for our flight again. There we were met again and taken to the hotel. Four or five hours later they came for us. They promised that we would get to the office in 40 minutes, but we spent much more on the road. At the same time, cars and drivers changed along the way,” continues Sergei.
The road turned out to be suspicious: in some places the driver asked passengers to bend down so that they could not be seen from the street. He explained this by saying that the military at checkpoints don’t really like foreigners. At the 11th or 12th hour of the journey, the guys looked at the maps and found out that they were being taken to the city of Laukkai, closed to foreigners.
“We called our friends, talked to them and were horrified – after all, we were being taken to a place where human trafficking flourishes, in fact there is slavery. Then we urgently sent emails to our embassy, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and contacted journalists. When we arrived in the city, instead of the company office, we were taken to a hotel again,” explains Sergei.
The “managers” said that the guys would now work in another company. At their new place of work, they were told that they had paid their previous employers 30 thousand dollars for them, and that they would have to work off this money. They were warned that it would take approximately 15 months, and if they wanted to leave earlier, the balance would have to be compensated. So Ekaterina and Sergei realized that they had fallen into real slavery.
The essence of the work for which the young people were brought was to meet foreigners, mostly Americans, on the Internet and offer to invest in cryptocurrency. “Employers” already had ready-made lists of potential victims of fraud. Katya and Sergey first had to just sit in the office and watch how other operators communicated and learn.
The horror of the hopeless situation also lay in the fact that explosions were constantly heard around the office building: military clashes constantly occur in Laukkai, and the city is not controlled by the country’s authorities. The employees demanded that they be urgently evacuated.
“Then the company management took us to the hotel. Several more models were also released. Now we are simply abandoned. The company management said that we can write or complain wherever we want, but there is military action everywhere and roads are blocked. We are now in a territory closed to foreigners, we have no money, nothing. The embassy cannot help in any way, they cannot even deport us. Not only do we have to pay to leave Myanmar. But there is no money,” Sergei concludes.
Lawyer Yuri Voskoboynik, who is trying to help Katya and Sergei, says that such a hiring scheme is quite common.
— At the moment, the young people are in the city of Laukkaing (another name for the city of Laukkai – editor’s note). Due to the outbreak of military conflict (there is a civil war in Myanmar – editor’s note), the company that kept them dismissed many of its employees. Now they are free, living in a local hotel,” explains the lawyer.
According to the lawyer, it is really impossible to leave the city on your own: there are checkpoints at the exit through which foreigners cannot leave the city on their own.
— I turned to human rights activists. They promptly advise on how to act strategically. I also contacted the Russian consulate in Myanmar so that they contact local government agencies and force them to work and help get the guys out as quickly as possible. There was an appeal to the Compatriots Defense Fund, they also help and are in contact with the embassy. A statement was written to the Consular Section of the Russian Foreign Ministry and an appeal to the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Russian Federation. I continue to study international documents to understand how this system works in order to come up with additional ways to help,” the lawyer explained.