As seven formerly enslaved Cambodian fishermen made their way home yesterday, a group of 199 Cambodian fishermen who were trafficked to work on Thai fishing vessels in Indonesian waters, the largest such group yet reported, was said to have been rescued from the island of Ambon.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong said in a statement that Cambodian Embassy officials, along with Indonesian authorities, were working to repatriate the group of nearly 200 men. As they have no passports, the embassy had issued travel letters.
“This is a new group we found recently,” Kuong said. “Now our officials, with the Indonesian authorities, are continuing to find more fishermen.
We don’t know how many others are still there.”
He added that the men are set to arrive sometime in June.
On Wednesday, the ministry announced that 59 Cambodian nationals were rescued from Ambon and Benjina islands. That came on the heels of another group of 59 that arrived home earlier this month from Tual, Indonesia.
While the swelling numbers have made headlines, Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, said it likely had less to do with increased trafficking and more to do with an overdue effort to find its victims.
“The issue is not that the numbers are going up necessarily, but that the numbers are being found. I think the increasing number is reflexive of efforts to search for and find these people,” he said, adding that the Cambodian government must do more about the issue within its own borders.
“[The government] hasn’t curbed corruption in labour recruitment ... there needs to be more action against cross-border gangs [particularly in Thailand] putting people on fishing boats.”
International Organization for Migration project manager Paul Dillon said the Cambodian government had communicated with IOM about the fishermen.
“The Cambodian embassy has been in contact with us regarding this situation in Ambon,” he said in an email.
“We have not received a formal request from the government of Indonesia to assist, but as part of IOM’s broader mandate we are prepared to render assistance if asked.”
Cambodians discovered in Indonesia are largely thought to have been trafficked, with many being discovered in forced confinement. Many experienced abuse at the hands of their employers and were forced to work countless hours without sufficient food or shelter.