The wrenching tales of three Cambodian fishermen trafficked abroad played out on screen last night as a documentary about the issue was shown.
Screened at German cultural centre Meta House, Where is the Horizon? tells how the men were promised jobs by Giant Ocean International Fishery but ended up working in slavelike conditions.
The film was produced by Hem Vanna, director of My Name is UNTAC, and Australia and USAID via Winrock International’s anti-trafficking program.
Each year, the organisation says, hundreds of Cambodians are shipped across the globe to labour on fishing vessels.
Trapped on board, they are forced to work long hours and suffer physical and sexual abuse.
“Many never come back; some commit suicide and the lucky few escape,” Vanna said.
His documentary follows the stories of three men who voluntarily signed up with the now-defunct recruitment agency Giant Ocean International, believing they would be sent to work in Japan.
They were instead shipped to South Africa, Senegal and Fiji, where they worked for little or no pay before managing to escape.
One of the victims featured in the film, Bun Then, applied for a position that was advertised as consisting of a three-year contract with pay of $130 per month and bonuses ranging between $500 and $2,000.
Arriving in the Ivory Coast, he was forced to work a minimum of 15 hours a day and often 48 hours without a break.
He was paid $20 a month in cash before escaping.
On April 29, Phnom Penh Municipal Court found six employees of Giant Ocean International guilty of trafficking, sentencing them to 10 years' imprisonment and ordering them to pay the victims compensation of withheld wages and damages.
But, due to an appeal by the agency, the victims are still waiting to see any money.
Legal Support of Children and Women (LSCW) worked with 87 of 97 trafficking victims. Mom Sokchar, legal and safe migration program manager at LSCW, said that the biggest problem for the families is a lack of compensation – though some have found work or support.
“They try to survive by themselves, but at the same time some of the people have already received support from NGOs,” he said.
Camille Dumont, communications manager at Winrock International, said that the film was created as part of the group’s counter-trafficking program.
The project aims to “improve the ability and readiness of Cambodian institutions to combat all forms of human trafficking through prevention” as well as to build “government capacity to prosecute traffickers”.
“The case does not only involve the one who has been arrested,” Sokchar explained. “We have to look at the whole process from the top.”