Two teenage boys conned into working on a Thai fishing trawler were repatriated Saturday, weeks after escaping their abusive managers.
The two Preah Vihear province boys, both 16, were part of a group of five young men from Tbeng Meanchey district’s Preah Khlaing commune who in September were trafficked by local brokers into the illegal fishing industry.
“Two brokers lobbied the boys and three other men to work at a plant nursery in Kampong Thom province. This was a lie. Instead, brokers took them to work in Thailand,” said Hou Ma Banney, an investigator with Adhoc which helped in the repatriation after receiving a complaint from the father of one of the victims.
Speaking by phone, one teenage victim told the Post he and 21 other Cambodian fishermen were kept in virtual slavery, forced to work night and day and terrorised by their managers.
“We slept an hour per night…They threatened to kill us if we don’t work hard. I was so scared; I wanted to return to my homeland.”
Making their escape during a brief stop to sell fish, the boys were picked up by Thai police and bounced from prison to prison over the course of two weeks.
Prang Thida, chief of the anti-human trafficking and juvenile protection office in Preah Vihear, said an investigation had been launched to find the brokers.
In spite of added legal protections for migrant workers installed by the Thai government in recent years, the Thai fishing industry remains largely unregulated and a hotbed of human trafficking.
Though figures are unverifiable, rights groups estimate that thousands of workers remain enslaved on the boats.
For poor Cambodians, the temptations offered by brokers all too often outweigh the risks.
Pov Moeun, 42, the father of one of the trafficked boys said his son had recently left school in search of work because of the family’s chronic lack of money.
“He needed money for the Pchum Ben festival, so he had to find work with somebody.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Phak Seangly at [email protected]