11 Burmese 'Slaves' Rescued From Thai Fishing Boats

By Lawi Weng, Migrant Workers 14 June 2012

Eleven Burmese migrants were rescued when the fishing boats they were forced to work on were raided by a team of Thai Department of Special Investigation (DSI) officers on Wednesday at Tambon Saem San in Chonburi near Bangkok.

Sompong Sakaew, the director of the Labor Rights Protection Network (LPN), told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that DSI police officers raided two boats in Saem San port the evening before.

An LPN representative who witnessed the raid on the fishing boats said the DSI officers arrested three Mon men who had allegedly bought the 11 Burmese migrants, then forced them to work on the boats 20 hours a day for wages of just 30 baht (US $1) per day.

Among the three suspects is a 15-year-old youth, he said, adding that the raid had been conducted after a phone call from one of the victims alerted the DSI.

The 11 reportedly told their rescuers that they had been held as “slaves” on the fishing boats for seven months.

The victims apparently crossed over the Thai-Burmese border near Mae Sot with the assistance of brokers and were then handed to ethnic Mon employment agents in Thailand who in turn arranged for them to work on the fishing boats.

“The broker in Mae Sot first told the victims they would work at a fisheries plant, not on board trawlers,” the LPN representative said. “That’s why they agreed to come.”

“The employers bought the victims for 8,000 baht [$265] each from the broker,” said the LPN representative. “Then they forced them to work, but did not pay them salaries.”

He said that the victims had been interviewed after the raid, and had told officers that they had been locked on board the vessels, had been poorly fed, and had been beaten when they could not work.

He said that the 11 are being held at a safe house in Chonburi and will be deported to the Thai-Burmese border after the authorities have concluded their investigation of the case.

Human trafficking is very prevalent in central Thailand where there is a large fishing industry. Many Burmese migrants seek work in the area and end up being trafficked to fishing boats and forced to work for many months at sea for little or no pay.

According to a US report, the Thai government “reported 18 convictions in trafficking-related cases in 2010—an increase from eight known convictions during the previous year. As of May 2011, only five of the 18 convictions reported by the government could be confirmed as trafficking offenses.”