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Cambodian fishermen are escorted through Phnom Penh International Airport
Cambodian fishermen are escorted through Phnom Penh International Airport yesterday evening after they were repatriated from Brunei. Vireak Mai

Trapped fishermen returned

Seven Cambodian fishermen were repatriated from Brunei yesterday after they were allegedly sold into slavery by a Thai broker and imprisoned for illegally fishing in the sultanate’s territory.

Heoung Pol, 16, a migrant worker from Kampong Cham province, said after arriving at Phnom Penh International Airport yesterday that he travelled to Thailand to seek work.

After he arrived, the broker who promised him a job sold Pol and several other Cambodians to a Thai fishing captain, who ordered the men to fish off the coast of Malaysia before moving on to Brunei, where the group was arrested.

“We were in jail for two months in Brunei, because they accused us of crossing into their waters illegally. We did not mean to [break the law], we just followed the Thai boss’ orders,” he said.

Oung Heang, 36, from Siem Reap, said the captain hadn’t paid them since they were forced to join his expedition.

“In fact, I wanted to find a job as a worker in Thailand, but I was sold to be a fisherman until [we were arrested in] Brunei. We worked only at sea, we never reached land. And we would work throughout the whole day and night.”

Oum Chan, 25, from Kampong Cham province, said he had hoped to save money to send back to his family by working in Thailand.

“We expected to work abroad with much money left over to send to my family in my homeland. But we got nothing, and we were also arrested and put in jail for two months. It was the worst time in my life,” he said.

Chan Srey, 48, Pol’s mother, said that her son had been missing for nearly two years.

“Now I don’t care if he has earned money or not. I am so happy, because I waited for him for nearly two years.”

Koy Kuong, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, said the Cambodian Embassy in Brunei and the Red Cross had assisted in the repatriation.



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