A Cambodian who was mistreated, starved, and tortured as a victim of human trafficking was hailed Tuesday for raising public awareness of the criminal practice through drawings that recreated his bitter experience.
Vannak Anan Prum, who suffered years of forced labor on fishing boats in Thailand and on a plantation in neighboring Malaysia, was named by the U.S. State Department as one of 10 “Heroes Working to End Modern-Day Slavery.”
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented him with the award in conjunction with the department’s annual Trafficking in Persons report that tracks the extent of the human smuggling problem across the globe.
The award was given “in recognition of his amazing courage to escape slavery and his remarkable activism to end human trafficking.”
After Vannak Anan Prum’s second escape from forced labor, he began recreating his experiences in pictures.
“I want everyone to know about this. Through my pictures, I want to warn all cross-border migrant workers to be careful,” he said.
“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,” he said of the pictures, some of which have been published as an RFA e-book.
Like some of the 100,000 Cambodian workers living illegally in Thailand, Vannak Anan Prum went across the border in search of better work but fell prey to human smuggling syndicates.
He found he had been sold as a slave on a fishing boat off the coasts of Thailand and Malaysia.
“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,” he said.
After three years, he jumped ship and swam ashore in Malaysia, hoping to be picked up by police and taken back to Cambodia as an illegal immigrant.
“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.”
Instead of being sent home, he was sold to work on an oil palm plantation.
A fight among workers on the plantation landed Vannak Anan Prum in jail, from where he got in touch with Cambodian NGO workers and was able to return to his home country.
Since then, he has used his drawings to speak out about his experience and raise awareness of human trafficking in the Southeast Asian fishing industry.
Among other “heroes” honored was Israel’s Azezet Habtezghi Kidane, an Eritrean nun with the Comboni Missionary Sisters who volunteers as a nurse for the NGO Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-I).
During the past two years, Kidane, also known as Sister Aziza, has led PHR-I’s efforts to call attention to human trafficking in Sinai, Egypt, including sexual slavery and the torture of hundreds of African asylum seekers.
Mauritania’s Fatimata M’Baye was cited for demonstrating “consistent and courageous advocacy for human rights over three decades. M’Baye is an attorney and the president and co-founder of the human rights NGO Mauritanian Association for Human Rights.
“We see people who have done the cutting-edge legal work; we’ve seen the people within government who have brought their government colleagues together to uncover human trafficking cases, to take a stand against official complicity,” U.S. Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons Luis CdeBaca said of the honorees.
“We also see people who are on the front lines.”
“[It is] a chilling notion that there are countries in the world where the abolition of slavery, the official, legal outlawing of this practice is not something for the history books, [but] something within the living memory of the people in those countries,” he said.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer service. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.