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Trafficking survivor trapped at sea returns home

March 14, 2017

Thailand’s seafood industry relies heavily on low-paid and often forced migrant labour. Labour brokers recruit from vulnerable communities, promising favourable employment. Workers often incur debt associated with transportation and recruitment, and this illegal debt gets transferred to owners of seafood factories, resulting in bonded labour. While the Thai government has announced plans to reform unregulated labour practices, more work remains to be done.

The Freedom Fund has partnered with local organisations in Thailand that support migrant workers in the seafood industry. One of our partners, the Foundation for Education and Development (FED), is the first Burmese-led NGO registered in Thailand. FED helps the Burmese migrant community advocate for their rights. Focusing on legal aid, advocacy, post-trauma recovery services and the development of migrant leaders, FED equips the Burmese migrant community with the knowledge and skills needed to overcome vulnerability to forced labour and achieve justice.

One migrant from Myanmar, Khin, a 45-year-old fisherman, was being forced to work on a trawler when FED met him. He was one of 12 migrant workers who were freed from slavery on sea vessels by FED and Thai authorities. Khin was among those trafficked to Indonesia from Myanmar and then transferred to a trawler. While on the boat, the migrant workers were denied basic human rights, never receiving any pay and working very long hours.

“I didn’t know how much my salary was and we were not allowed to ask,” Khin recalled. “We had to follow the Thai captain’s orders and we were too frightened to raise any complaints.”

FED collaborated with several government agencies in a joint effort to free the fishermen, including immigration authorities, the Royal Thai Navy, the Ministry of Labour, the Special Branch Police and others. FED provided translation services, assisted in identifying the 12 fishermen, and helped with negotiations between the employer, workers and government officials.

Together with the authorities, FED contacted the fishermen’s’ relatives and arranged to have their lost wages recovered from the employer. FED staff then helped the trafficking survivors reunite with their families. Khin received all of his back wages, and he has since returned home to Myanmar.

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