Escaping the chaos of home, Myanmar migrants face exploitation abroad

Forced to flee her Magway village in southeast Myanmar during a junta attack, Theingi Soe spent a “terrible” month living in makeshift shelters in the jungle during the rainy season. In her misery, she began to plot another escape – to a life in a country beyond the conflict.

An acquaintance put her in touch with a hiring agent in Yangon who promised work in Dubai. She paid 1 million kyats (U.S. $476) upfront to be connected to a family in need of domestic help, bought her own plane ticket, and arrived in her new home on Dec. 26, 2021, nervous but hopeful she would find a measure of stability among the city’s gleaming high rises and shining shopping malls.

Instead, Theingi Soe, 27, says she has been confronted with new hardships: denied wages she had been promised in Myanmar; forced to work 16-hour days on just one meal a day; “sold” from one unscrupulous broker to another, her “debt” rising with each purchase.

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Nayrein Kyaw and Gemunu Amarasinghe