More than 50 trafficking victims are set to return to Cambodia after their Thai fishing boat was intercepted when it illegally crossed into Indonesian waters last month.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Chum Sounry yesterday said 54 Cambodian nationals were arrested on April 12 and detained in Pontianak, Indonesia. “The Indonesian authorities considered those workers victims of human trafficking and not perpetrators,” Sounry said.
One of the victims, Seak Leng, from Prey Veng province, said in an interview that he migrated to Thailand on January 4 in search of work, but was cheated by a broker and sold to an illegal Thai fishing boat. Leng described slave-like conditions, saying he was forced to work day and night, given insufficient food and not paid a cent.
The victims managed to hide a cellphone and last week made contact with Yi Vong, a relative to five of the imprisoned victims. Vong then reached out to human rights groups and Cambodian authorities for help.
Leng said embassy officials were now assisting with passports and plane tickets to bring the victims home.
“In two or three weeks more, we might be able to return to Cambodia,” Leng said from prison. “I want to give advice to all Cambodian people; please not to cross the border illegally as I did, because when they arrested us, we found it difficult to return home.”
Sem Chausok, a human rights observer at Licadho, said 500 victims had been rescued from similar trafficking schemes in the past three years, adding that lack of work in Cambodia pushed people to migrate, making them vulnerable to exploitation.