Rescued Fishermen Stuck in Indonesia After Trafficking Ordeal

By Astrid Zweynert 25 April 2015

PHNOM PENH — Hundreds of mainly Burmese and Cambodian fishermen rescued from traffickers almost three weeks ago are stuck in Indonesia because there are not enough funds to return them home, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said.

Some of the men freed by the Indonesian government had spent between two and 10 years on commercial fishing boats, and were subjected to beatings and threats, according to Brett Dickson, program manager at IOM’s mission in Cambodia.

In total, 455 migrant fishermen from Burma, 94 from Cambodia and eight from Laos, were rescued this month after an investigation into human trafficking on fishing boats off the coast of Indonesia.

“We’re looking for money to return the fishermen home. Due to the large numbers of rescued men we don’t have the funds to fly them home,” Dickson told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Many of the rescued fishermen have described being beaten and forced to work up to 22 hours a day without pay.

Others spoke of being locked up in cabins on the boats with little food and nothing to drink but dirty water.

The International Labour Organization estimates that 21 million people around the world are victims of forced labor. Desperate to support their families, many of them are lured by promises of a job.

The IOM mission in Cambodia, which is in charge of organizing the repatriation of the men, needed US$50,000 to fly them home, Dickson said.

A further $75,000 was needed to provide the men with psychological support and vocational training to help them rebuild their lives, he added.

Dickson said the IOM in Indonesia was working on a larger appeal for up to $1 million.

IOM staff had spoken to the Cambodian fishermen, most of them from the country’s northern and western regions, and they were eager to return home, Dickson said.