Nearly 150 Burmese migrant workers, who for up to two years had been locked inside a shrimp factory in Mahachai near Bangkok, were rescued on Tuesday by Thai police and social organizations.
Kyaw Thaung, a spokesperson for the Burmese Association in Thailand (BAT), told The Irrawaddy that his organization found out about the workers through an employee who had escaped.
“There are 146 workers altogether. They were placed in the basement underneath the factory and forced to work like slaves,” said Kyaw Thaung.
He said the BAT staff informed local authorities about the conditions in the factory and the plight of the desperate workers, but were told they would have to produce stronger evidence, such as photographs or videos, before the authorities could take further action.
The staffer, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Irrawaddy that he had to risk his life to obtain such evidence.
“I had to shoot photos and videos secretly, and I was afraid of being found out by the factory thugs or the police. I don’t have any documents to stay in Thailand,” he said.
After his evidence was submitted to local Thai police and a UN agency, the factory owner, Burmese charge-hands and security guards were arrested, and the workers were finally freed from bondage.
The rescue effort also reportedly involved the BAT, the Anti-Human Trafficking Division of the Royal Thai Police (AHTD), United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking (UNIAP), the Foundation for Education and Development (FED) based in Thailand’s Phang Nga Province, and the Burmese embassy in Bangkok.
A male worker who escaped from virtual slavery told The Irrawaddy that some of the victims were trapped there for up to two years and that when unwell were not allowed to receive medical treatment. Everybody had to work approximately 20 hours a day without any days off, he said.
He also said that Kyaw Soe, the Burmese charge-hand who was arrested together with the factory owner, treated the workers cruelly and even slapped their faces sometimes.
“Once I got out of the factory, I felt I had gone from hell to heaven,” he said.
On May 15, Thai police in nearby Samut Prakan Province arrested more than 1,000 migrant workers, 386 of whom were from Burma, while the rest were from Laos and Cambodia. The arrest was carried out due to alleged drug dealing by some workers, Thai newspapers reported.
According to organizations assisting migrant workers in Thailand, there are about four million Burmese, only half of whom have official documents, currently working in the kingdom.