All but three of a group of 20 Cambodians who were held against their will on a fishing boat in Thailand had returned after agreeing to pay a fee for “transportation”, a police official said yesterday.
The men, believing they were heading to jobs in Koh Kong province, were allegedly trafficked last month by a Thai broker into Thailand’s Trat province, where they were held for ransom.
Since then, the families of 17 men, from Toang Tralach commune, in Kampong Cham province’s Srei Santhor district, have secured their release from conditions that the victims have described as akin to slave labour.
Sok Maly, deputy chief of the Koh Kong province anti-human trafficking and juvenile protection police office, said eight of the victims had paid 1,000 baht (US$32) to be released.
Others had simply walked free, and three had chosen to remain aboard the boat.
“Until now, three people rejected returning home after our intervention because they want to work as fishermen even though it is illegal [because they entered Thailand illegally],” he said.
Police had found that the 1,000 baht “ransom” payment was actually a loan for daily expenses, he said, and claimed it was not a serious case of human trafficking because the men had simply struggled to adjust to working conditions.
“In fact, they returned after 20 days working as fishermen. So how can the boss pay their salary? Even state officials only get their salary at the end of the month. They were asked to pay back the money they borrowed to buy cigarettes and toothpaste,” he said.
Phorn Phoung, one of the repatriated men, denied he borrowed the money expenses but was, in fact, docked the cash for the transportation used to traffic him there.
“We didn’t know we were transported to work abroad, and we were told the boss paid 1,000 baht for our transportation. In fact, I never borrowed money from the boss, except to eat rice on the boat only,” he said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Chhay Channyda at firstname.lastname@example.org