Thai police and a Myanmar nongovernmental organization that helps migrant workers have rescued 19 trafficked Myanmar fishermen forced to work aboard a fishing boat in slave-like conditions, the director of the NGO said.
The Myanmar Association in Thailand (MAT) and the Anti-Human Trafficking Division (AHTD) of the Royal Thai Police found the men on Sunday in a boat moored off the southern Thai city of Pattani, said MAT director Kyaw Thaung.
They range in age from 13 to 34 and are from southern Myanmar’s Mon and Tanintharyi region and from western Rakhine state, he told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“We found and saved the 19 Myanmar fishermen in the Pattani region near the Thailand-Malaysia border,” he said.
“They were locked inside an Indonesian fishing boat and couldn’t go anywhere,” Kyaw Thaung said.
“A police officer from Dawei [in southern Myanmar’s Tanintharyi region] called me and gave me this information,” he said. “We asked the AHTD for help, and together we found the victims.”
The men will be sent to immigration camps in Thailand and return home after six months or a year, he said.
MAT has collaborated with the AHTD for several years to crack down on human trafficking.
Officials make arrests
Thai police have now arrested a Thai businessman and a Myanmar woman from Mon State who were accused of being directly involved in the trafficking, the online journal The Irrawaddy reported.
The woman had promised six of the men jobs that paid about U.S. $260 a month at a factory in Pattaya, a resort city on the Gulf of Thailand, but instead transported them to Pattani, the report said, citing MAT communications officer Sai Aye as the source.
The rescued fishermen testified at the nearby police station that about 80 other trafficked fishermen from Myanmar were also being held against their will at an unknown location in southern Thailand, the report said.
Thailand’s fishing industry relies heavily on trafficked and forced labor, especially from Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos, according to a 2014 report issued by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), a U.K.-based nonprofit organization that focuses on protecting the environment and defending human rights.
Many of the estimated 200,000 migrants from Thailand’s neighboring countries have been trafficked and forced to work in appalling conditions with no pay and subjected to brutal subjugation, the report said.
The EJF called on the Thai government to identify and prosecute criminals, corrupt officials and unscrupulous businesspeople and enforce measures to regulate the country’s fishing industry and recruitment practices.
Reported by Zarni Htun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.