Slave Fishermen to be Repatriated Next Month: Home Affairs Ministry

By Yen Saning 4 May 2015

RANGOON — Hundreds of Burmese fishermen working in conditions described as “modern slavery” in Indonesia will be sent back home in mid-May, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Following an investigation into the Thai fishing industry by Associated Press in March, about 530 Burmese nationals trafficked to Indonesia by Thai fishing boats are now undergoing an identification process ahead of their eventual repatriation.

A board of officials from the Ministry of Home Affairs has screened the men in Jakarta and at locations in the Maluku Islands, an island chain at the eastern end of the Indonesian archipelago where the men were sent to work, by determining whether they can speak and write Burmese and verifying their addresses in Burma.

“The Burmese will be gathered to Ambon Island and we will bring them back together,” said Gen. Win Naing Htun, chief of the ministry’s human trafficking taskforce.

Officials from the Burmese embassy in Indonesia have collected information and interviewed Burmese nationals living on the island since April with the assistance of Indonesian immigration officials.

“Most of them had been trafficked by Thai fishing boats and left behind at the islands,” said Win Naing Htun. “Some of them had worked on the boats for three or four years.”

The Associated Press investigation into the conditions of Burmese fishermen on the island of Benjina reported that the laborers were forced to work up to 22 hours at a time with no days off, paid little or nothing, subject to unlawful imprisonment and in the worst cases, beatings and deaths aboard fishing trawlers.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and Indonesian officials are assisting with the repatriation process. In April IOM estimated that there were up to 4,000 men trafficked from across Southeast Asia and forced to work in the fishing industry in the Maluku islands.