SIXTEEN migrants who were trafficked to Thailand and Malaysia returned to Phnom Penh yesterday after being detained for several months in a Malaysian prison.
Mom Sokchar, programme manager for Legal Support for Children and Women, a local rights group, said yesterday that 14 men from the group had been trafficked through Samut Prakan province in Thailand and later forced to work without pay on Thai fishing vessels.
“They were forced to work like slaves on the boat,” he said. “They never received their salary, and some of them were working at sea for 10 years.”
The men eventually escaped by jumping overboard when their vessel docked near Malaysia and subsequently asked to be “arrested” by the Malaysian police, he said, and some of the men were held in prison for as long as 10 months.
The men, who hail from seven provinces, were “cheated” by traffickers who promised them well-paid jobs in factories, and in the construction and fishing industries.
“They had no jobs in Cambodia so when they heard that they could get US$16 per day they had to go,” he said.
Bun Sarei, a 31-year-old trafficking victim from Battambang province, said that he was deceived by a broker to whom he paid a fee of about $32 to secure a job working on a dock in Thailand.
“I was cheated and forced to work as a fishermen at sea,” he said. He said that he had been drugged and had later woken up on a fishing vessel.
“I was surprised when I woke up because my body was surrounded by the sea,” he said. “At first I cried, but then I was beaten by the boat captain until I stopped. It was like hell.”
Manfred Hornung, a legal adviser with Licadho, called the case a “stereotypical story” involving the “movement of people with an element of deceit [and] with the purpose of exploitation”.
Mom Sokchar said the lone woman from the group travelled to Malaysia with the aid of a recruitment firm and had been paid to work as a maid, but fled after being abused by her employer.
Another man worked in a Malaysian garment factory, but had been forced to pay off a large fee to the broker who secured his job, he said.
According to a study conducted last year by the United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking, almost one-quarter of deportees returning through Poipet are trafficking victims. The study also suggested that men were twice as likely to have been cheated or trafficked.
In May, eight men returned to Cambodia after escaping from a Malaysian fishing vessel where they had been forced to work as virtual servants for one to three years.