SITTING near a pond behind his house in Pearaing district, Prey Veng province, Ngin Veasna is lucky to have avoided a spell in Thai prison.
Like many other vulnerable Cambodians desperately seeking work, the 21-year-old took a chance and headed for Thailand in search of a job.
With no passport and crammed into a small car with 16 other illegal economic migrants, he was smuggled across the Cambodian border through a forest in Battambang.
But unlike thousands of others, the youngster was caught soon after crossing the border.
Thai authorities chased after his car, which crashed into an electricity marker during the chase.
“I was rendered unconscious and woke up sleeping in hospital in Thailand,” said Ngin Veasna, adding that he would have been detained in prison for months if he had not had a serious accident.
After a few days in hospital, he came back across the border, where Cambodian authorities arrested him. They gave him 80,000 riels to go back to his homeland in Prey Veng.
Ngin Veasna declined to tell the Post who brought him to Thailand, stating that he went with a friend.
Reticence on behalf of the victims of human trafficking is common, according to non-governmental organisaton Adhoc, which works across Cambodia including in the border town of Koh Kong.
The organisation sees men, women and children coming back to the Kingdom after being trafficked into the Thai sex, fishery and construction industries.
Victims, according to Adhoc, have returned to Kampong Cham, Kampong Thom, Kratie, Svay Rieng and, most commonly, Prey Veng provinces.
“Some of them come back, but they don’t really tell us who sent them to the area,” said Ouk Vantha, head of Adhoc’s women investigation department in Koh Kong province.
According to Ouk Vantha, many of those entering into Thailand are initially treated well, but over time wages are withheld. Conditions for some illegal workers working in fisheries, she said, are so dire that for those who have done wrong or ask for trouble, they will sometimes be thrown into the sea.
Looking morose on a ladder in front of his house in Prey Veng province, former Thai fishery worker Uy Lin, 22, has had first-hand experience of the trouble faced by many economic migrants, some of whom are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.
He went to work in Thailand in 2007 with his brother, but the two became separated. His brother has not yet returned since his arrest under drug trafficking charges in 2008. He is now in prison somewhere in Thailand.
“I don’t know when he will be released,” he said, adding that many of his friends who went to work in Thailand have been cheated by their bosses.
While Adhoc, faced with a wall of silence, plans to concentrate on helping those vulnerable to exploitation from traffickers, it is just one of a number of NGOs that work in border towns to cope with the ramifications of human trafficking.
Other NGOs help rehabilitate former illegal workers, who often pass through border points penniless, alone and in a fragile emotional state.
Created in 2002, Health Care for Children (HCC) is another non-government organisation working in Koh Kong city. It has set up a support network in the community to help the influx of people who enter at the checkpoint each day.
Huor Ngy, provincial coordinator of HCC in Koh Kong, told the Post that the organisation has branched out from its initial area of expertise, sex trafficking, to also working since 2007 with men who have fallen victim to labour exploitation.
The organisation now provides two shelters for trafficking victims in Koh Kong, one for women and one for men. Residents are provided with money and advice to bring them back to their home provinces, along with being provided healthcare services.
“We also find victims lawyers as well,”said Huor Ngy.
HCC has also employed a new tactic in order to bring the vulnerable under their care.
The organisation has trained a group of 20 motorbike taxi drivers, who meet with HCC every two or three months to discuss labour exploitation, on how to spot victims at the border point – where many wait for new arrivals.
Prom Norada, 52, has been working as a motorbike taxi driver on the Thail-Cambodian border for two years.
“When I meet people I suspect to have been trafficked, I can ask them questions about their experiences. Then I can bring them to the HCC centre.
I look out for miserable people, and sometimes we see three trucks of them each day,” he said.
“They are often men and women who have been working in fisheries – sometimes they go with no passports. Sometimes the Thai authorities bring them over, after holding them in detention. These kinds of people are very happy we are here.”