Soung Sokden looks older than his 26 years, his skin black and weather-beaten from six years of forced labour onboard a Thai fishing boat – the latest trafficking tale recounted by returned fishermen on Friday.
Eyes downcast, Soung Sokden, from Kampong Cham’s Chamkar Leu district, said a broker had first led him overseas to a boat that trawled the waters off Thailand, then Indonesia.
“I was there for so many years, but did not get a salary – not even one riel … I was a fool to work there,” he said.
Tok Ravvy, 18, a fisherman on the same boat, said he had got the number of the Cambodian Embassy in Indonesia from a repatriated friend and called its emergency hotline.
They and two others were eventually repatriated by the Cambodian and Indonesian authorities and the International Organisation for Migration.
Tok Ravvy said there were still “hundreds” of Cambodian fishermen stranded overseas.
Fellow returnee Ly Cheang Long, 24, said he had been misled by promises of a high salary.
“I was told I could get up to 10,000 baht [US$325] per month, but I worked as a slave without money,” he said.
According to the Ministry of Interior, 12,000 migrant workers were repatriated in 2011.
Suos Sok Srey Mom, research coordinator at IOM, said cases of fishermen being stuck abroad for longer than three years were rare but did exist.
“They do not have the chance to escape and have no contacts to ask for help,” she said.
Ten Borany, deputy director of the Ministry of Interior’s anti-human trafficking department, said investigations into the case were under way and authorities were searching for the brokers.
Separately, three fishermen arrived in Kampot province on Saturday after being rescued by a Vietnamese boat.
Toch Polak, deputy chief of the sea border department in Kampot, said the trio had jumped overboard when their employer tried to kill them, and were picked up by the Vietnamese boat.
To contact the reporter on this story: Sen David at [email protected]