Cambodian officials are facilitating the repatriation of dozens of fishermen rescued by the Indonesian government from Benjina, a remote island in the sprawling archipelago that was recently uncovered as a major hub for forced labour and human trafficking.
Earlier this month, Indonesian authorities rescued more than 300 enslaved fishermen from Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand after an Associated Press investigation revealed that the fishermen were forcefully kept – sometimes in cages – on Benjina after working on primarily Thai boats fishing in Indonesian waters.
Steve Hamilton, the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) deputy chief of mission for Indonesia, said that members of the Cambodian government have begun the process of repatriating 58 rescued Cambodians on Tual, an island city north of Benjina.
“The [Cambodian] embassy was helping the IOM with translation, and aiming to find out who were victims of trafficking,” he said. “They’re hoping to [repatriate] the victims within a month, but it’s difficult because none of them have paperwork.”
He said, however, that an additional 36 men still on Benjina were recently determined to be from Cambodia after a team of IOM officials, Indonesian authorities and Myanmar Embassy personnel screened 210 people left on the island.
“The Cambodian government has not seen these people yet,” Hamilton said.
Muhsinin Dolisada, first secretary at the Indonesian Embassy in Phnom Penh, also said that “Indonesia and the IOM are coordinating with the Cambodian Embassy”. Cambodian personnel in Jakarta, however, could not be reached for comment.
Meanwhile, Sandra Moniaga, a commissioner at Indonesia’s National Commission on Human Rights, said that the organisation is investigating further rights abuses related to the case and has found indications of child labour – workers that were recruited as minors and grew up slaving away on the boats.
“We investigated predicted human rights violations. We interviewed some of the former seafarers and some of the people at the company,” she said, referring to Pusaka Benjina Resources, the firm found by AP to be using slave-staffed boats to catch seafood shipped for global export. “What’s new for us is that there were several children among the seafarers.”
Hamilton confirmed that at least some among the group on Tual “were clearly minors”.