A Lao rubber plantation worker who was jailed for a year in Malaysia and presumed dead by relatives returned home to Laos’ Attapeu province this week.
Aloun Phommalath, 24, worked on a Malaysian plantation for four years before he was arrested on drug charges in August 2021.
He was released at the end of 2022, but relatives in the Attapeu Shanan division did not know how to contact him. Phommalath lost his mobile phone in prison and doesn’t remember his family’s phone numbers.
The family told Radio Free Asia they feared losing contact meant he was dead.
But Phommalath eventually wrote them a letter through a colleague who was on his way back to Laos. His family then sent a text message to Radio Free Asia asking for assistance in bringing him home.
A Radio Free Asia reporter then emailed the Lao embassy in Malaysia, alerting them to the situation in Phommalath. Phonmarat returned to Laos on Wednesday.
“We’re so happy. There’s nothing like it. It’s like he’s been born again,” his brother said. “I never dreamed that he would come home after we lost touch with him for so long.”
A sister from Phommalath said that after the plane landed, she ran to the plane and headed towards the terminal.
“When he came home, all the relatives came to visit,” said another sister. “They all asked him why he was so fat and dark. They had been waiting for him to come home for a long time.”
An official at the Lao embassy told RFA that Phommalath’s criminal case is related to the drug “Kratom,” a herbal substance that can produce opioid and stimulant-like effects. He was sentenced to a year in prison, the official said.
Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare of Laos expected last year About 2,000 Laotians have traveled to Malaysia illegally to work in the fishing industry.
The ministry said 700 Lao migrants returned home from Malaysia during the pandemic, but most of them ended up returning home as high inflation worsened economic conditions in Laos.
A Lao fisherman who has been working in Pahang, Malaysia, told Radio Free Asia for security reasons that although wages there are sometimes higher than in Laos, illegal immigrants are often exploited by their employers.
To ensure their rights are protected, the Lao government is trying to find ways to get more migrants to Malaysia legally.
Despite the risks, Malaysia remains attractive to migrants because it is a relatively easy country to work in, the fisherman said.
“The main reason so many people choose to come here is because we don’t have money. Most of us don’t even have enough money to make passports,” he said.
Translated by Sidney Khotpanya. Edited by Matt Reed.