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Thai fishing under scrutiny

Thai fishing under scrutiny

Trafficking victims who were forced to work without pay on Thai fishing vessels stand outside the Phnom Penh office of rights group Licadho in August.

Thailand's government should take urgent steps to combat the widespread trafficking of men from Cambodia and other countries into the notoriously abusive Thai fishing industry, the International Organisation for Migration says in a new report.

Released publicly on Friday after being submitted to the Thai government as a draft late last year, the report makes a range of recommendations to address the problem, including the establishment of an industry-wide migrant worker database by the Thai government.

“For an increasingly sophisticated industry, Thailand’s recruitment for workers in the fishing sector remains largely based on informal recruiting processes which often lead to abuse and foster human trafficking,” the IOM said.

“Current labour recruitment processes result in many cases of deception and human trafficking while failing to address the chronic labour shortages plaguing the fishing sector.”

The creation of a government-run labour recruitment centre is another recommended reform. Thailand could face trade sanctions if it fails to adequately address the problem, the IOM added.

Interviews conducted by the IOM with trafficking victims from the Thai fishing industry paint a frightening picture of the threats allegedly used to enslave workers.

“I killed the guy that you are replacing, if you try to flee I will take care of you too,” a former fisherman in the report recalls a boat captain telling him.

Crackdowns on fraudulent registration documents and corrupt police officials are vital to clean up what has become an increasingly lucrative industry, the report said.

Lim Tith, national project coordinator at the United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking, said last year that the industry was worth roughly US$2 billion annually, or 1.5 percent of Thailand’s total exports.

While comprehensive data on the issue is nonexistent, trafficking experts say thousands of Cambodian men have quietly but consistently fallen victim in recent years to scams that land them adrift on Thai fishing vessels, labouring for little to no pay in brutal conditions.

Hou Vuthy, deputy director general at the Ministry of Labour, called labour aboard Thai fishing vessels “dangerous work”, and said the government would discourage migrant labourers from joining the industry.

He was unsure of the number of Cambodians involved in such work.

Nearly 125,000 Cambodians were registered to work in Thailand as of last year, along with untold thousands more who are undocumented.