COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh - Desperate to eke out a living, many Bangladeshis risk their lives on a perilous sea voyage to Malaysia, hoping to find jobs.
On the long journey, which winds through the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea, some are thrown overboard by the ships' crew if they are too sick from starvation or dysentery.
Others, unable to stand the suffering and abuse, take their own lives.
Those who survive the trip risk ending up in jail or immigration centres in Malaysia or Thailand if they make landfall.
If they do become illegal immigrants, they will likely find themselves no better than slaves.
Nazrul Islam, 22, is one such Bangladeshi. Within hours of setting foot in Malaysia, after a prolonged stay in the jungles of Thailand, he was sold to a construction supervisor.
Just days before, the human traffickers who were smuggling him into the country extorted a total of 230,000 takas (RM11,000) from his family in Bangladesh.
It was October 2013 and he had made the sea journey from his country to Thailand where he and many other illegal immigrants were then kept at so-called "receiving houses" near the Malaysian border.
They would be collected by their employers who would pay the human traffickers for them.
But since Nazrul's employer did not turn up to "receive" him, the traffickers made extra money by selling him to the supervisor.
He was in a bind.
"That was the last straw for me," he said. "My family homestead had already been sold to pay for my journey.
"I could not afford to buy my freedom from the supervisor. Nor could I return home."
Escaping from the supervisor some seven months later during a police raid on the construction site, Nazrul found work at a glass manufacturing factory.
But his employer took advantage of his predicament and did not pay him his wages for the month that he worked there.
"It is a curse to be an illegal immigrant, always afraid of being caught and having to slog 12 hours a day, seven days a week without pay," said Nazrul, telling his story from Malaysia.
Another Bangladeshi, Jewel Barua, had a more chilling tale to tell.
His journey to Malaysia started with being ferried on a fishing boat from the coast of Bangladesh to a cargo ship anchored in the Bay of Bengal.
It took several days to reach the ship and the boat was packed tight with at least 500 others.
The ship remained anchored in the bay for four more days before making its way to Thailand, which took about two weeks.
Jewel said during the journey, they were fed little.
"We got rice once a day with a little lentil soup while water was strictly rationed - half a tea cup a day," he said.
Eight men enforced discipline aboard the vessel and used lengths of rope with a knot at one end as whips to beat the passengers for any infractions.
Another Bangladeshi making the journey, Ismail, said he saw the enforcers whipping a fellow countryman from Moheshkhali Island for trying to jump off the ship.
Many on the ship were later taken into the Thai jungle and had to suffer inhumane conditions until they ran away, were sold to Malaysian captors or rescued by the authorities.
Ismail and seven others slipped away. They walked the jungle for 43 days, eating leaves and fruits until nabbed by the police just after setting foot on Malaysian soil.
Jewel said he was half-dead by the time the police found him. He was sent to several jails and immigration centres.
Another victim, Gias Uddin, said he served his 80-day sentence after which he was sent to an immigration centre in Kuala Lumpur and later repatriated.
"Even that was a nightmare," he said. "There were only two toilets for about 350 people. And you could die from fever or dysentery because there are no medical facilities."
Many Bangladeshis are still willing to risk everything to seek employment in Malaysia illegally.
But for Nazrul and many others, it is an experience never to be repeated. "Going to Malaysia and getting a job is a myth," he said.