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A long journey home

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A group of 24 trafficking victims return to Cambodia on Saturday, after being picked up off the coast of Mauritius. The men were originally trafficked to Thailand, where they were put to work on fishing boats.

MORE than 20 human trafficking victims who were enslaved aboard a fishing boat that was intercepted 6,000 kilometres from Cambodia off the tiny island nation of Mauritius were repatriated on Saturday.

In what has become a disturbingly familiar story, the men reportedly told police they had been forced on to fishing boats in Thailand after being tricked by brokers into taking jobs in Cambodia’s western neighbour.

Seven victims who were repatriated in July after being tricked into slave labour aboard Thai fishing boats said they were beaten, forced to work almost without rest, force-fed drugs and had witnessed men thrown overboard.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong said last Tuesday the latest group of 24 Cambodian victims was discovered aboard a boat that was intercepted on July 28 by Mauritian maritime authorities in the country’s territorial waters.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs intervened for them, and Ministry of Interior police now have a duty to catch the brokers,” he said.

The rescued men were reluctant to talk on Saturday, briefly appearing outside the Phnom Penh International Airport before they were rushed away by Anti-Human Trafficking Police.

Nang, 24, said he was happy to finally return after spending months stuck in a detention centre in Mauritius.

“I am delighted I could arrive and see my homeland. I was ordered to fish in Thailand and Mauritius. I don’t know.  It was so much more difficult than I expected,” he said.

Chiv Phally, deputy director of the Interior Ministry’s Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Department, said the men’s repatriation was an international operation that included police, government officials and the Internat-ional Organisation for Migration.

Anti-human trafficking police are now conducting interviews with all the rescued men and will begin searching for suspects along Cambodia’s border with Thailand.

Mouen Tola, head of the labour program at the Community Legal Educat-ion Centre, said regional efforts to tackle the fishing boat slave labour trade had been little more than “benign propaganda”.

“I’m really upset with the .  .  . 10 ASEAN member countries, because if you look at the website of the ASEAN countries, they call it deterring human trafficking, but  those countries still have some kind of reluctance to implement its provisions,” he said.

Mouen Tola  said detailed information had been provided to the police about the location of farmers in Thailand who had trafficked some of the seven men repatriated in July, but nothing had been done to bring them to justice.

Mathieu Pellerin, a consultant with the rights group Licadho, said that once victims were trafficked on to boats, it was probably too late for any kind of systematic intervention, but authorities could crack down on brokers on the border if they had the will to do so.

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