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Parents of trafficking victims testify in Thailand

Fishermen return to Cambodia after being illegally trafficked to Indonesia in 2013.
Fishermen return to Cambodia after being illegally trafficked to Indonesia in 2013. Vireak Mai

Parents of trafficking victims testify in Thailand

Chab Sanna, 67, yesterday told a courtroom how her three sons had been lured from their Svay Rieng province home in search of work abroad only to be trafficked into a life of near-slavery on a Thai fishing vessel. It’s an all-too-familiar tale, though one made unique by the setting: a Thai courtroom.

Sanna was one of two parents to testify in the case of 15 Cambodian fishermen rescued early last year off the coast of Thailand’s Ranong province. They are believed to be the first Cambodians to have ever testified in a human-trafficking case in Thailand who weren’t victims themselves, NGO officials said yesterday.

The trial of the captain and the owner of the fishing dock, who were arrested just over a year ago, began its hearings last week at the Provincial Court of Ranong, according to Chonticha Tang, program coordinator of the Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF) in Thailand.

The Cambodian broker has not been identified yet, she added.

Anchalee Pipattanawattanakul, a Greenpeace researcher on illegal fishing in Thailand, said that most of the 15 victims had stayed onboard about 13 months, sleeping only two or three hours a day during fishing periods.

Sanna, 67, whose three sons are between 24 and 31 years of age, said before the hearing that she was “very tired and sad”, but speaking to The Post yesterday, said she was “happy” to have testified.

“We hope we find justice,” she said before calling on the government to “provide jobs to our children, so they don’t need to risk their lives.”

Before the trial, she explained that her sons went to Thailand ostensibly to work as construction workers. She lost contact with them shortly thereafter.

“After six months, someone who was on the same boat with my sons told me they were trafficked,” she said.

When she met one of her sons on Tuesday, it was the first time she had seen him in more than two years.

The other parent to testify yesterday, 59-year-old Kong Touch, from Kampot province, had a similar reunion with his 28 year old son, Touch Bang, on Tuesday. Like Sanna, he had not heard from his son until six months after his departure, when someone who escaped told him about his son’s fate. “I will never let my son go away again,” the father said.

Tang from HRDF said in an email after the hearing that the parents testified that brokers came to give them money when they lost contact with their sons, claiming their sons “were doing good.”

Daniel Murphy, a consultant at Human Rights Watch and International Labor Rights Forum, said in an email that the registered owner of the vessel, Kamneungnuan Wongkachonkitti, directly benefitted from the trafficking. She controlled, he added, a newly established overseas fishing association.

“The Thai authorities need to ensure that key beneficiaries of trafficking and forced labour in the fishing industry are held to account, especially where they are company owners or government officials,” he said.

Reached yesterday, deputy director of Cambodia’s Anti-Human Trafficking Department So Vandy said that he was not aware of the 15 Cambodians who were trafficked in Thailand, but that trafficking was difficult to combat. “We have done so much to fight trafficking,” he said, “but we can still not stop [it] from happening. There are many things surrounding the issue.”

Indeed, the parade of rescued Cambodian fishermen continued apace yesterday as the Ministry of Foreign affairs announced the rescue of 16 fishermen from vessels in Indonesia. According to a press statement, eight were repatriated on Tuesday, while the rest are expected to arrive on January 30.

Ministry spokesman Chum Sounry said the Cambodian fishermen were aged between 17 and 58 and hailed from Kampong Cham, Tbong Khmum, Prey Veng, Kampot and Kampong Thom provinces.

They entered Thailand at the end of June and were then brought to Malaysia by boat, he said, before then being shipped to Indonesia. They were caught by Indonesian authorities at the end of July 2016 and detained in that country until they were ruled to be victims of trafficking in November last year, Sounry said.

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