A Malaysian man, hails from a small village in Lahad Datu, stranded for astonishing 24 years in the jungle of Cambodia finally reunited with his family in Kota Kinabalu yesterday.
It started as atypical story of young man, lure by promised of better income, oblivious to the risk of such decision, decided to work abroad.
In 1993, Mohd Zulkifli from Tambisan, Lahad Datu together with 14 other Malaysians went to Cambodia’s Koh Kong province – a coastal province near the Thai border. They work for a Malaysian logging company just been given clearance to log Koh Kong forest by the Cambodian Government.
Cambodia, after decades of war, eager to move forward, desperate for foreign investment, licensed huge track of it forest to foreigners including Malaysian. But the fragile peace, interrupted by a political turmoil in 1995.
The volatile situation forcing many many Malaysian logging companies, including Mohd Zulkifli employer pull out of Cambodia – often without notice, leaving their employees to fence for themselves. In the case of Mohd Zulkifli, he lost his his travel document, believed to have been taken by his fleeing employer. It is common for Malaysian employers to keep their employees important document such passport for safekeeping.
It was a big blow to Mohd Zulkifli. Without any documents to proof his nationality, he had become an illegal immigrant, no longer legal foreign worker. But he is still hopeful of making it home. In 2002, he went to a Malaysian embassy in Cambodia seeking assistance to return to Sabah.
However, due bureaucratic hanky-panky, he got stranded. The Malaysian Embassy told Mohd Zulkifli months later that they couldn’t contacted his family in Sabah. By the time, his meager saving had all dried up. Hopeless, he then returned to the forest of Koh Kong, saying he could evade arrest living in the forest cover. He chopped wood for cash.
After years of surviving in Cambodian forest, in March 2017, he decided to travel home by road. His epic journey home, took over 1,400km from Koh Kong to Bukit Kayu Hitam the Thailand-Malaysia border. He survived on the kindness of strangers by giving him ride on their motorcycle or driving him in their car.
After spending weeks on the road, he re-enter Malaysia via Bukit Kayu Hitam and made his way to a friend’s house in Alor Setar. He stayed with his friend for over a month sorting out his missing personal identification and travel documents. In a bit of luck he got help from a VVIP.
“I am really grateful to the Raja Muda Perlis (Tuanku Syed Faizuddin Putra Ibni Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin Jamalullail) for his help.”
“Through his private secretary, I was assisted in obtaining my MyKad,” he said.
Mohd Zulkifli, now 54, finally reunited with his family when landed at Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA) from Kuala Lumpur at 11.30 morning, yesterday, He summed his experience by saying “Syukur Allhamdulillah (Thank God), everything happens because of the power of God.”
After missing his family for more than two decades night and day, with son had all grown up he said “all I want to do at this moment is to spend time with my family. I do not want to think of anything else, including my future plans.”
We wish Mohd Zulkifli all the best of health and savor the moments.