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Men rescued from fishing boat slavery

Two Cambodians were repatriated yesterday after being rescued from a fishing vessel at a port in Senegal on Friday, thanks to collaborative intervention by the International Organization for Migration and Senegalese authorities.

Toy Koeun, 29, from Pursat province, and Som Pich, 20, from Kampot province, said they had been sent to work in slavery-like conditions on the boat in October, just one day after being promised a $200 monthly salary by Phoenix International Co to work as fishermen in Japan.

“I am absolutely delighted that I was returned home safely,” Toy Koeun told the Post as he was leaving Phnom Penh International Airport.

He had been told he would be stuck in Senegal for two years only after the boat had left port on its way out to sea.

“I felt like I was under detention in the middle of nowhere in the ocean,” Sam Pich said.

“I did not seem to have a chance to meet my family.”

Sam Pich said he was fortunate enough to meet other Cambodian workers aboard the ship whose term of service was nearly up.

When the ship docked in January, their fellow Cambodians told them to seek help from authorities.

While ashore in early May, the pair went to Senegalese police for help, but were not helped.

A few days later, after a failed escape attempt and news that the boat would soon be back at sea, the two reached out to Huy Pichsovann, a program officer for labour at the Community Legal Education Center.

“Migrant workers, whether they are legal or illegal, will often become victims, and the government and respective ministry should follow up to see to the safety of those migrant workers by having a close co-operation with recruitment agencies,” Huy Pichsovann said.

Oum Mean, secretary of state at the Ministry of Labour, said he had no information about these particular victims, but knew of no agencies recruiting workers to go to Japan.

“We have always taken care of our labourers overseas,” he said, adding that migration through illegal agencies made it difficult to check on workers’ safety.

Phoenix International could not be reached for comment.

To contact the reporter on this story: Khouth Sophak Chakrya at sophakchakrya.khouth@phnompenhpost.com

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