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Survery finds fishermen in Thailand ‘trafficked, abused’

Trafficked fishermen arrive at Phnom Penh International Airport in 2014 after they were rescued from Thai fishing boats. The Thai fishing industry is notorious for relying on trafficked labour.
Trafficked fishermen arrive at Phnom Penh International Airport in 2014 after they were rescued from Thai fishing boats. The Thai fishing industry is notorious for relying on trafficked labour. Vireak Mai

Survery finds fishermen in Thailand ‘trafficked, abused’

Trafficking in the Thai fishing industry remains rampant, with fishermen from Cambodia and Myanmar often experiencing horrifying work conditions, according to the results of a survey of workers.

In the study by Issara Institute – commissioned by the International Justice Mission (IJM) and published last week – just over 87 percent of respondents experienced significant forms of exploitation and/or trafficking in their work at sea, including almost 40 percent experiencing clear examples of trafficking.

More than 70 percent of the almost 250 Burmese and Cambodians surveyed in five provinces of Thailand reported they had to work at least 16 hours per day, with an average monthly pay of about $180. “In some cases, workers were beaten and their lives threatened if they did not keep working through these excessively long durations of time,” the authors wrote.

The vast majority also reported physical and psychological abuse. For example, “reports were heard across all sampled provinces of fishermen sick at sea with body aches and fever being threatened to be pushed overboard or killed if they did not continue to work”.

But the abuse didn’t end once they left the ship.

“In some piers of Sichon district, Nakhon Si Thammarat province, brokers reportedly wait for the workers on the pier to put them into lock-ups immediately after disembarkation,” the report said. “Another broker reportedly has a gun and has killed some fishermen before: the fishermen believe that this broker will kill or torture them if they run away.”

Peter Williams, country director of IJM Cambodia, said in an email that “there is still much work to be done to protect Cambodian men from exploitation as they migrate to Thailand”. He said coordination between Thai and Cambodian law enforcements, courts and social services would “lead to swifter and stronger responses to traffickers”.

Among workers interviewed, some complained that police in Thailand and brokers were collaborating to keep them under control.

“Respondents in Pattani [a coastal province], when attempting to leave their job, reported experiencing brokers and police working together to control the crew,” the report said. In Pattani and other provinces, researchers found, workers were under the impression boat owners had “protective” relationships with the authorities to keep workers in check.

Trafficking cases involving Cambodian men going to Thailand in the hopes of better work opportunities often make headlines. In one case, boat owner Kamneungnuan Wongkajornkitti is being prosecuted following the rescue of 15 Cambodian fishermen from two ships early last year. The case, filed before Wongkajornkitti turned himself in in July, is at the Thai Court of Appeal.

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