After going missing for seven years, a Cambodian fisherman who claims he was trafficked to a trawler in Indonesia called his father begging for help last month.
Thik Seangly, now 28, initially left Cambodia in 2007 when he crossed the border to Thailand in search of work.
After confirming he found a job on a fishing boat, Seangly disappeared for more than half a decade.
“On March 3, my son called me and told me that his boss would allow him to return home in December 2014, but would not give him his wages. He said that he never received a salary,” said Hai Klau, Seangly’s father.
Seangly had been trafficked and sold from boat to boat with no pay or option of escaping from the notoriously abusive industry.
In 2013, an International Labour Organization study found that 17 per cent of surveyed fisherman in Thailand worked against their will, unable to leave the sea for years.
In December, Seangly wasn’t allowed to go home, however he did escape.
He told his father his boat had been stopped for illegally fishing around Vichada Island, but he had fled and was now stuck on the island.
Dy Thehoya, labour program officer at the Community Legal Education Centre, said he tried to reach Seangly on the phone number his father provided, but it was disconnected.
It’s the first complaint CLEC has received so far this year, but it’s far from an anomaly.
Officially, just 133,400 Cambodian migrants have been sent abroad from 2000 to 2012, but hundreds of thousands more are estimated to slip across the borders undocumented with the help of brokers.
In November, Thailand registered almost 682,000 such undocumented Cambodians working in the country.
The official counts register a negligible number of migrants headed to Indonesia, however Thai trawlers often ply Indonesian waters.
Last October, 20 Cambodians tricked onto Thai fishing boats escaped while in Indonesia. The men were repatriated a month later.
The Cambodian Embassy in Indonesia and Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, could not be reached yesterday for comment about Seangly’s case.
“I very, very much miss my son and pity him,” Klau said. “We pray he comes back home safely soon.”