Six Burmese Migrants Rescued From Thai Fishing Industry Trafficking

By Nyein Nyein 4 March 2014

Six Burmese migrants forced to work in the Thai fishing industry were rescued from human traffickers on Monday night by local law enforcement in southern Thailand’s Kantang district.

The Thai police’s anti-trafficking unit and a Bangkok-based Burmese civil society group rescued the men, all aged 25 or older, from a fishing boat that had docked at the port city of Trang on the Malay Peninsula, about 860 kilometers south of Bangkok, according to Kyaw Thaung, director of the Myanmar Association Thailand (MAT).

“We were contacted by these men over a month ago, and only when they came to the dock were we able to rescue them, at about 11pm on March 3,” he said. “But we still need to rescue one man from the boat.”

Kyaw Thaung said the six men were being held for questioning at the local police station prior to their deportation. “Letting them stay in the police station is for their security as the brokers and bosses could target them for talking to police,” he said, adding that none of the rescued Burmese nationals was carrying legal documents.

The six men are from at least three different townships in western Burma’s Arakan State.

One of the rescued laborers, who asked that his name be withheld, said he arrived to Thailand in October 2013, lured by what turned out to be a false promise of a job working on the docks at a salary equivalent to 350,000 kyats (US$357) per month.

“Actually, when I arrived, there was no job at the dock. Instead I had to work on the fishing boats at sea,” the man said, adding that a broker who arranged the deal had demanded a 300,000 kyats fee for his services. Efforts to track down the accused broker have not yet been successful.

Reports of laborers facing torture and other boat workers driven to suicide have sullied the reputation of the Thai fishing industry, which is heavily dependent on migrant workers.

The anonymous rescued migrant worker appeared to be among the latest victims of an industry ripe for exploitation by human traffickers.

“I was beaten when I refused to do the job which was not agreed to,” he said.

“I started working on Oct. 2, 2013, and returned to the docks three times [within five months]. Each time the head laborer gave me less than 300 baht [$10] to use during our stay of two days,” he said, adding that he had also checked with his family to find out if they had received any type of payment and was informed that they had not.

He said the fishing boat he was working aboard employed 15 people, only six of whom were detained by Thai authorities to await deportation. All but one other laborer possessed the necessary legal documents to work in Thailand and voluntarily returned to the fishing vessel.

Despite many stories of Burmese migrants exploited by employers or brokers in Thailand, many continue to seek work in the neighboring Southeast Asian nation, where they view job prospects as better. Upon arrival to the Kingdom, however, many find that the workplace environment and or the nature of the job differs from what they were originally offered.

The MAT intervened in 11 cases of trafficking in persons last year, rescuing a total of 82 people working in industries ranging from fishing to manufacturing, and as domestic helpers or sex workers. This week’s bust was the association’s first of 2014.

There are estimated 3 million Burmese migrant workers in Thailand, where some 1.7 million of them are officially registered. But for many, four-year work visas have been expiring over the last eight months, and workers’ rights advocates say the migrants are facing a legal limbo that makes them vulnerable to exploitation by Thai authorities, employers or human traffickers.