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Migrant worker overcomes slavery at sea trauma

March 7, 2017

Up to 200,000 migrants working in the Thai fishing industry are susceptible to exploitation and unethical labour practices. Recent media scrutiny on the Thai fishing industry has prompted the Thai government and the private sector to announce labour reforms, but more work remains to be done.

Stella Maris is a Freedom Fund partner working in Thailand to provide care to seafarers. For several years, the organisation has also operated a number of health-related projects targeting both Thai and migrant populations. The services Stella Maris provides to migrant workers include building migrant networks for peer support, visiting fishing vessels at seaports to examine working conditions, providing urgent assistance when needed and operating a small shelter within their office.

One migrant from Myanmar came to reside at Stella Maris’s shelter after he escaped from a fishing boat. Migrants aboard Thai fishing vessels are often subject to physical abuse, trapped on ships they are not allowed to leave. While the man was working on the fishing boat, he saw his friends being brutally assaulted. After he left the boat, he experienced post-traumatic stress, afraid of being assaulted whenever he slept and harbouring a debilitating fear of being followed.

To help him manage his fears, the shelter staff arranged therapy and worked with him to help him determine concrete steps he could take to overcome his trauma. A friend of his was enlisted to stay with the man at the shelter and accompany him during his commute to a new job so he wasn’t alone. Shelter staff recommended he cut back on his alcohol consumption, since his symptoms seemed to flare up when he drank. The staff also invited monks to the shelter to pray with the man for his relatives in Myanmar.

Since his treatment, the man has continued his employment at a fishing dock recommended to him by Stella Maris. As of July 2016, the man is doing well and has experienced fewer symptoms. Stella Maris routinely provides referrals to a local hospital for psychiatric care as needed, but they determined that the man is in good health and does not need further therapy at this time.

The Freedom Fund’s Thailand Hotspot aims to significantly reduce slavery in the seafood industry. Learn more.

Photo credit: Brent Lewin/The Freedom Fund

Written by
The Freedom Fund