Trafficked Burmese Migrants Freed from Thai Fishing Boats

By Nyein Nyein 16 May 2016

Thirteen Burmese migrant workers who were sold to Thai fishing boats were rescued on Sunday from a dock more than 400 miles south of Bangkok and will soon be reunited with their families.

The fishery workers will return to Burma on Tuesday, after first traveling from Thailand’s Surat Thani province to Bangkok to set up the necessary travel arrangements.

Kyaw Thaung, a director with the Myanmar Association in Thailand (MAT), said that a total of 16 workers between the ages of 21 and 64 were rescued over the weekend.

Bangkok-based MAT has helped trafficking victims for over a decade and collaborated with Burmese Embassy officials to form the Myanmar Worker’s Protection Committee to provide assistance to migrants.

In the past five months, 167 migrants were rescued through the joint efforts of officials and rights advocates including MAT, Thailand’s Department of Special Investigation (DSI) and the Anti-Human Traffic Division under the police and marine forces. Their collaboration has resulted in the release of 900 victims between 2011-15, and the detention of 10 traffickers.

The fishery workers had not been paid their salaries despite having worked for more than a year, while facing torture on the boats, the victims said.

“I and others were beaten with wooden sticks and stingray tails,” said Ko Ye, a victim from Karen State. “Four people beat me and hit me with a hammer because I talked back.”

Prior to leaving for Thailand, he was told he would be taken to work at a soft-drink factory, but was instead sold to a fishing boat.

“Before we were rescued, we were only given 100-200 baht (US$3-6) when our boats came inland,” said Hla Myint, a 63-year-old deaf man from Dawei in Tenasserim Division who worked on a boat for almost three years.

Kyaw Thaung called this group lucky, as many previous workers remained in police detention, either because they were undocumented workers or needed to serve as witnesses in other cases. He said police were still holding 32 workers who were rescued in Phuket in late January.

Hla Myint said he was eager to go back home and was tired from the job.

He only just received his entire salary, at the rate of about US$200 per month for 32 months, following the rescue.

The victims contacted MAT through a hotline number they found on social media.

Kyaw Thaung said having a police attaché, who was attached to the Burmese government and tasked to fight human trafficking, would help combat the large number of people trafficked into Thailand. In Thailand, there are two labor attachés focused on migrant worker’s issues, but it is not enough to meet the growing demands they are up against.

He added that rescue organizations were fighting an uphill battle, especially since Thailand has faced a shortage of migrant workers in the fishery sector.

Last Friday, China’s official press agency reported that an estimated 50,000 Burmese workers quit working in Thailand’s fishing industry and that many more would soon follow suit, preferring to look for work inside Burma instead, according to the head of a fishery association in Samut Sakorn province, Thailand.

Kyaw Kha contributed to this report.