A Dozen Trafficked Migrants Freed From Thai Fishing Boat

By Kyaw Kha 23 October 2015

RANGOON — A dozen migrant workers from Burma who were sold into slavery on a Thai fishing boat were rescued this week by a joint team of officials and rights advocates on the shore of Thailand’s Trang Province.

Following a five-month investigation, a task force comprising the Thai Department of Special Investigation and the Myanmar Association in Thailand (MAT), under the aegis of the Burmese Embassy, secured the release of the twelve men, some of whom had been confined as laborers on fishing vessels for as long as 15 years.

“Some of the rescued were sold to work on the sea in slave-like conditions more than a decade ago,” said Kyaw Thaung, director of MAT, who assisted the operation. “There are more such victims that still haven’t been rescued, and we haven’t arrested the trafficking gang.”

Kyaw Thu, also known as Kala, was among those freed on Tuesday. He claims he was intercepted by human traffickers about 15 years ago.

“I am happy that I am free now, but there are many trafficked Burmese people still on the vessel,” Kyaw Thu said, adding that there could be up to 50 others still aboard his ship, as well as at least 10 other similar boats to his knowledge.

Describing cruel conditions at sea, Kyaw Thu said many Burmese members of his crew were tortures, and some died at sea. He said he had personally witnessed about 30 deaths throughout his 15-year period aboard the ill-fated ship.

“Even when I was sick, I was tortured and forced to work. I was whipped, punched and kicked, and I was even stabbed six times. There were cases when those who refused to work were beaten with iron rods, thrown into the sea, or shot dead,” he said.

Migrant workers account for some five percent of Thailand’s workforce, and most originate from Burma, Cambodia and Laos. While many enter the country through legal channels, some employ uncertified brokers and others fall prey to human traffickers.

This year Thailand remained designated as a “Tier 3” country in the US State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report, for the second consecutive year. The assessment was due in part to human trafficking in the seafood industry and in the country’s south, where recent years have seen a sharp rise in trafficking of people from western Burma and Bangladesh.

In efforts to improve the country’s ghastly record on migrant rights and human trafficking, the Department of Special Investigations and MAT have ramped up rescue efforts, successfully liberating 171 trafficking victims and apprehending 10 human smugglers since the start of this year.

Translated by Thet Ko Ko.