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Justice still eludes fishermen

Fishermen repatriated from Thailand at Phnom Penh International Airport last year
Fishermen repatriated from Thailand at Phnom Penh International Airport last year. Vireak Mai

Justice still eludes fishermen

For more than two years, Sao Thy* was forced to work 20-hour days on a fishing vessel in Senegal, abandoned there by a recruitment agency that had promised him landscaping employment in Thailand.

Thy was beaten, starved and forced to continue working even after being bitten by a shark. The only money that he and his family saw from the arrangement was the $400 he had to borrow to pay the now-infamous recruitment scammer Giant Ocean International Fishery Co.

Thy is just one of the 179 identified survivors among what NGOs estimate to be 1,000 Cambodian men sold by Giant Ocean to overseas fishing vessels. But even after a two-year investigation and 96 victim complaints led to a conviction in April of the six Taiwanese nationals running Giant Ocean, none of the trafficked men have seen court-ordered compensation. And the government yesterday gave them little reason to hope they would ever see any of their withheld wages, even if the ongoing appeal ends in their favour.

At a human-trafficking workshop in the capital, Ministry of Justice officials told victims that if they ever wanted their earnings they would have to find the money themselves, suggesting they should first file a court order to freeze Giant Ocean’s $100,000 guaranty deposit in the National Bank.

“If that is not enough money for their compensation, then the plaintiff needs to go and search for the accused’s properties in Cambodia to see if they have sizeable assets and then make a report to the court,” said Phnom Penh judge Chea Sokheng.

Officials yesterday also offered no clear details on how they intend to find the remaining victims.

“We suspect there are more victims, we just don’t know how many or where they are yet,” said Ith Rady, an undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Justice.

Chiv Phally, deputy director of the Interior Ministry’s Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Department, added no further specifics, noting only that “all relevant people need to come together” to find the other survivors, many of whom may remain trapped at sea. And for repatriated victims, the government didn’t have any more promising news.

“We do not have the budget to follow-up with or provide support to the reintegrated workers,” said Kim Hong, a director at the Ministry of Social Affairs.

Meanwhile, Thy, who now farms chickens, said he had asked the court for $5,000, but no longer expects to see it.

“I do not want to waste any more of my time,” he said.

*Real name has been changed for privacy reasons.

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