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Asia-Pacific

Police, IJM and our Partners Rescue Fisherman too Afraid to ‘Speak Out’

CHONBURI, THAILAND—Four years. That’s how long Phyu* has been working on the fishing boats. Passed from ship to ship, he says that never received his full wages—not even close. While the boat captain held his documentation, he says that he was unable to leave and go back to his home in Myanmar.

His family thought he had died in Thailand.

Four Years of Exploitation

The first call came from a man near the port, who had heard about Phyu’s plight from one of his fellow workers on the boat. He reported to IJM’s team that for more than four years, Phyu had been assigned to work on several boats that belong to the same Thai owner. He also reported that Phyu didn’t receive wages for his work, only a couple hundred baht (approximately A$15 or less) every few weeks when his boat pulls into the port—and sometimes not even that.

According to the informant, Phyu is also living with a mental condition that is worsening over time, and which he believes was caused by physical abuse. Fellow workers noticed that both his mental and physical health have declined over his years working on the fishing vessels. Without a salary, Phyu relied on donated clothing, and he never travelled far when his ship was docked at the port.

Armed with this lead, IJM’s team in Bangkok reported the case to the Royal Thai Police’s Thailand Anti-Trafficking in Persons Task Force (TATIP). IJM staff accompanied officers and other partners to the small port to find and rescue him.

Rescued and Safe

Phyu later told IJM’s team that when he first saw the officers come onto the pier where his boat was docked, looking for him, he was afraid. But as soon as IJM’s social worker explained that they were there to rescue him, he said he felt comfortable and at ease. With the help of A21 and other partners, Phyu was transferred to a temporary government shelter, where he stayed before being interviewed by Thai authorities.

While Phyu toiled on fishing boats, too afraid to leave or “speak out,” his family in Myanmar had no idea what had happened to their son. They had not heard from him since he left home four years ago, and they assumed that he had died in Thailand.

Working with Samaritan’s Purse Myanmar, IJM’s staff were able to speak with Phyu’s parents on the phone. They told his parent’s that Phyu was alive, and that rescue was near.

IJM social workers worked to assess his needs and develop a long-term plan for his care. They also worked with our partners at Samaritan’s Purse Myanmar to support his return home and reunite him with his family.

Alongside our partners, IJM is working to protect migrant workers from forced labour trafficking in the Thai fishing industry. Vulnerable men and women from neighbouring countries, like Myanmar and Cambodia, are trafficked into the Thai fishing and seafood industries through deception, threats and violence. Like other forms of slavery, labour trafficking thrives when recruiters, brokers and ship owners are able to prey on victims without fearing the law.

*A pseudonym has been used to protect his identity

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