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‘Slaves’ finally home

‘Slaves’ finally home

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Four trafficked fishermen return to Cambodia yesterday after being rescued by South African authorities. Photograph: Vireak Mai/Phnom Penh Post

Four Cambodian men held for months as slaves on a boat off the coast of South Africa were greeted by their relieved families at Phnom Penh International Airport yesterday after being rescued from their ordeal.

One of the fishermen, Kha Mara, 29, said the group had suffered months of physical and mental torment after believing they had signed up to work in Japan.

“We were forced to work without rest and salary and even during rainstorms,” he said on his return. “If we refused to work, they beat us.”

The four men, all from Kampong Cham province, were punched and kicked if their Taiwanese captors believed they were not doing enough work or if they “looked lazy”, Kha Mara said.

The men’s rescue was set in motion when they managed to call their families when the ship docked in South Africa.

Their families complained to the Community Legal Education Center, and an operation that also involved the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, CLEC, South African authorities and the International Migration Organisation helped secure their freedom.

Nov Chon, 49, was happy and relieved when his 25-year-old son, Seng Sokha, walked through the airport’s arrival gate yesterday.

“My son worked out in the ocean for more than 19 months without getting the monthly salary they had promised him – $200,” Chon said. “The company had promised that $50 of this would be sent to us each month, but it never was.”

The company Chon was referring to, according to a document released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Wednesday, is Giant Ocean International Fishery Co, which Huy Pich Sovann, program officer at CLEC, said had been difficult to investigate because it had “disappeared”.

The workers had medical check-ups after arriving home, Sovann said.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Koung could not be reached for comment yesterday.

To contact the reporter on this story: Phak Seangly at [email protected]

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