After escaping forced labor first on a rubber plantation and then on a fishing boat, a young Lao man now works at day jobs on an Indonesian island as he waits for help to go home, the former trafficking victim says.
Lea, now 26 and a native of Nafai village in Savannakhet province’s Kaisone district, was first recruited as a teen to work in Thailand by a neighbor, he told RFA’s Lao Service.
“But he lured me to be sold to a Thai,” Lea said.
“Ten of us were taken by boat across the Mekong River to Thailand’s Mukdahan province, and then we were taken by truck to work in a rubber plantation in Rayong province,” he said.
“My neighbor sold us to our employer, and then returned home,” he said.
After Lea and his friends had worked for four months for a daily wage of 20 baht (U.S.$0.57) to pay off what they were told was their debt to the man who had “purchased” them, Lea decided to escape, he said.
Sold to boat
Alone and with no money and only 15 years old, Lea then went to Bangkok, where a taxi driver told him he could earn good pay working on a fishing boat.
“I agreed to go, and he took me to my new employer, the Nava 11 fishing boat, but I was locked in a house for three days in before being sent to work,” he said.
Lea and a Thai national who the taxi driver had also sold to the fishing boat then spent from 15 to 30 days at sea, and were allowed ashore only one day each month, he said.
“We worked hard every day with almost no time for sleep,” Lea said.
“And we had to work even if it rained,” he said. “Otherwise, we would be physically abused or told we would be thrown into the sea.”
Working on Thai fishing boats is a dangerous occupation, with workers frequently abused and slave laborers used to fill out boat crews, sources say.
Escape to the forest
Three years later, Lea and three Cambodian friends escaped into the forest one day after being taken ashore while fishing near Indonesia, he said.
“We fled into the forest and tried to survive by eating whatever we could find there.”
Stranded on Indonesia’s Tuan Island, Lea now works as a laborer on construction sites and in other jobs as he waits to go home, he said.
Speaking to RFA, Thai labor rights advocate Samak Tubtanee said that Lea cannot now go home “because his [former] employer holds his passport.”
“The Lao embassies in Thailand and Indonesia do not know that a Lao worker is stuck in Indonesia,” Samak, an official of the Labor Rights Protection Network (LPN), said.
“So we must bring a photo or other information to his parents or the people in his village so they can verify his identity,” he said.
“After that, we will ask the Lao authorities for permission to visit him and try to help,” he said.
Reported and translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh for RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.