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Fishermen recount horror

fishermen

Finally home after a two-year nightmare that led them into slave labour aboard fishing boats, 12 repatriated Cambodian men despairingly recounted their ordeal at Phnom Penh International airport yesterday and warned others not to fall into the same trap.

Mai Vireak/Phnom Penh Post
Trafficked fishermen return to Cambodia yesterday after being made to work without pay on Thai fishing boats for more than two years. The group of 12 young men were rescued in Indonesia.

The men were rescued in Indonesia after falling into an all too familiar path of exploitation in which victims are promised lucrative jobs in Thailand only to find themselves forced onto fishing boats when they arrive.

Struggling to put words together, 19-year-old Rotha said yesterday he did not receive even “one riel” of salary aboard a fishing boat after taking up a broker’s offer in 2009 and vowed never to seek employment overseas again.

“[We] had to clear fish from the net so much, sometimes more than 10 tonnes [in one day]. I and another man had to work nearly 24 hours, with only two hours to sleep,” he said, urging others not to take the same risks he did.

“If I did not work, they would beat me and hit me.”

Toch Dern, 30, from Pailin province, said he was promised a job as orange picker by a broker in Cambodia, but was sold to a fishing boat when he arrived.  

“Every day at sea, I prayed to God to help me to come back home. Now the government and the [International Organisation for Migration] have helped me. I thank them,” he said.

Chhiv Phally, deputy chief of the Ministry of Interior’s anti-human trafficking and juvenile protection department, said the men were now receiving health examinations and being interviewed to help identify the brokers who trafficked them.

“We must question them to find the brokers according to the law. They seem to be cooperating with the police to catch the brokers, unlike previous cases,” he said, adding that the men first wanted to go home and see their families. The rescue had been conducted through a coordinated effort by the IOM and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he added.

In December alone, almost 100 Cambodian men were rescued from Indonesia, Malaysia and Mauritius after they were trafficked onto fishing boats in Thailand.

Those who have returned recall horrifying tales of abuse that have included sick men being thrown overboard after they were denied medical treatment, routine beatings and cases where men have been force fed drugs because they are too exhausted to continue working.

Lim Mony, deputy head of the women’s section at the rights group ADHOC, said he had received nearly 100 more cases of Cambodian men who were stranded in Malaysia, Japan, China, South Africa and Nepal after escaping from fishing boats.

“We are cooperating with authorities to help these other men come back to their homeland next,” he said.

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