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I want everyone to know about this. Through my pictures, I want to warn all cross-border migrant workers to be careful. Even if they do not keep my own story in mind, they will at least have an idea of what life is like for people trafficked onto boats for forced labor - Vannak

Vannak is a Cambodian survivor of human trafficking. His story is one of extreme poverty and of what people are sometimes forced to do to take care of their families.

Many trafficking victims don't live to tell their stories. Vannak is one of the lucky few who return home after their ordeal.

Unable to pay for his pregnant wife's hospital bill, Vannak decided to look for work away from home, on the Thai border.

With others like him, he was caught in a web of trafficking and corruption, realizing only too late that he had been sold as a slave to a fishing boat.

Beatings, cruelty, and disease were daily occurrences. Finally, Vannak and a friend jumped into the water and, hugging empty fish-sauce containers because they could not swim, reached Malaysia.

There, they were sold again, this time to a plantation owner. When Vannak finally came home with the help of a local NGO, no one would believe his extraordinary story.

He resorted to drawing pictures of what he remembered.

Vannak never had a formal education or training in art. As a child, he said, he drew "in the dirt, just for fun."

Later, he practiced drawing on wooden writing boards with dried clay until the day when a Vietnamese soldier gave him paper and pencils.

"That's when I learned to draw on paper. I really love being an artist," Vannak told our correspondent.

These drawings bear witness to Vannak's ordeal, and to the lives of others whose voices have been silenced.

Catherine Antoine Dan Southerland
Managing Editor RFA Online Executive Editor

My life before leaving for work on the fishing boat in Thailand and Malaysia.

 When crossing the border to Thailand in the darkness through the Srah Keo road, migrants were forced to lie down in a stack, covered by a black cloth.

Life on the fishing boat means working day and night nonstop. If there is time for a break, it is only very short. The workers face danger all the time working on the boat. This boat is in the Malaysian seas.

Workers fix a fishing net during a rainstorm with huge waves. We always work nonstop.

It is deadly dangerous living on the boat. This decapitation was done in the middle of a quiet night. This is the true story of life on boats in Malaysian, Indonesian, and Thai seas.

We escape from the fishing boat. When the boat was moored at a dock to pay tax in Malaysia, one of the Thai workers and I used this chance to escape the boat.

I swam away from the boat. Then I shouted for help so that I could be taken to the police, as I really wanted to return to Cambodia. While I was waiting at the police office, a man wearing sunglasses came in and took me to a Chinese man, who then gave some money to the man with sunglasses. After that we got on the car with that Chinese man and were taken to Sibu.

Working at an oil palm plantation on Sibu Island, Malaysia. There were a lot of different nationals working on that island. The managers were Malaysians or Chinese. The plantation owner, who was known as Mr. Din, is Chinese.

While we were drinking together, a Burmese worker got very drunk and destroyed a Thai worker's property. The Thai became furious and grabbed a knife. The Burmese stabbed him twice and while I was holding him, that Burmese stabbed me as well.

This is the detention center at Moca, Sibu Island, Malaysia. We stayed there for around 10 days. After that, I heard that two people were visiting the center for two weeks. It was then that Manfred from LICADHO and Prak Socheat from IOM saved me. We met on 11-12-2009.

Prum Vannak Anan. Jrolorng Nhus Village, Tom Por Meas Commune, Som Rong Torng District, Kampong Speu Province.

To the sun: Please don't set on the migrant workers who are trafficked for forced labor.


- Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery

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Produced by Minh-Ha Le