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Escapees From Thai Fishing Vessel Return From Indonesia

Cambodian workers use barrels to float a fishing boat which just hauled from the Gulf of Thailand.
Cambodian workers use barrels to float a fishing boat which just hauled from the Gulf of Thailand.

Seven men who escaped forced labor aboard a Thai fishing vessel returned to Cambodia on Tuesday, with more expected to return next week.

The men had been forced to work long hours for little pay aboard the boat before escaping to Indonesia.

“It was too hard to work on the fishing boat, because we didn’t have time to sleep,” Chhut Deum, 33, told reporters as he and the others landed at Phnom Penh International Airport. “Then we decided to return to the rice fields.”

Vorn Phea, 20, said they were only allowed to sleep about two hours per night, in what government officials and rights workers called a case of human trafficking.

The men, who came from the provinces of Battambang, Kampong Cham, Kampot and Siem Reap, were forced to work aboard the boat for about two years, before they fled the boat when it moored on the Indonesian coast.

Am Sam Ath, a rights observer for Licadho, said the men were brokered by middlemen to Thai partners, after they were promised a salary of between $130 and $190 per month.

“They went out to work illegally because of joblessness and poverty,” said Mom Sok Cha, a program officer for Legal Aid for Women and Children, which helped orchestrate the men’s return.

Seven more are expected to return next week, he said.

These fishermen are the lucky ones. Many other workers trafficked abroad never return. Only about 200 illegal workers were repatriated similarly in 2011, after being trafficking through Indonesia, Malaysia or India, said Koy Kuong, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Chea Moun, a woman from Kampong Speu province, came to the airport on Tuesday when she heard there were some workers returning from Indonesia. She had hoped to find her son, who has been missing for 11 years.

“He went to work in Thailand, and after he arrived in Indonesia, I could call him,” she said. “Later, though, I couldn’t reach him.”

She said she would be back at the airport next week, waiting.