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Survivors of Labor Trafficking Often Fall Through the Cracks, Report Says

Cambodian trafficked fishermen return from Indonesia after being freed or escaping from slave-like conditions on Thai fishing vessels, talks to journalists at the Phnom Penh International airport, file photo.

Men who are trafficked into forced labor can have difficulty reintegrating into their lives once they return.

A new report looks at the needs of survivors of labor trafficking, which has gained a lot of attention lately, with reports of slave-like conditions aboard fishing vessels in international waters.

The report, by Hagar International, says assistance for such integration remains underfunded, while many victims of trafficking are forgotten once they find their way home.

Kate Day, Hagar’s trafficking researcher, said victims need healthy environments in which to recover, along with medical, legal and financial help.

“Reintegration assistance makes a huge difference in the lives of victims,” she said. “Long-term case management, which leads to the most comprehensive assistance, has helped some survivors become economically stable, gain confidence or overcome mental health problems.”

More attention has come lately to labor trafficking, which includes the industries of commercial fishing, construction, agriculture and factory work. Victims can suffer physically or psychologically, making reintegration difficult.

“One of the major findings of the study was the importance of reintegration and aftercare service for survivors, after they come back,” Day said. Men can sometimes receive less comprehensive assistance, she added. “It’s really an urgent need. Those victims really need support and ongoing follow-up.”

In 2014, the Cambodian government created a national plan to combat trafficking, through better law enforcement, prevention and the judicial system. It aims to coordinate the efforts of the government, NGOs and the public.

Chou Bun Eng, head of the government’s anti-trafficking committee, said migrant laborers can run into serious problems when they go abroad to work illegally. “Especially when they are returned to their home country, without any result or outcome,” she said. When they do return, victims of trafficking need support through vocational training, long-term case management and jobs, she said.

In reality, however, such support is still limited.

Chhan Sokunthea, head of the women and children’s rights section for Adhoc, said many victims are forgotten once they are repatriated. This can mean they return to illegal work abroad shortly after they come home. “We’ve never seen the government or related authorities take serious action after their arrival, at all,” she said. “Their poverty is still with them.”