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2017 (Narrative date)

Men, women and children are victims of human trafficking for forced labour in the Thai fishing industry. Enslaved people are subjected to physical abuse, excessive and inhumane working hours, sleep and food deprivation, forced use of methamphetamines and long trips at sea confined to the vessel. Due to the fishing industry relying on trans-shipments at sea to reduce expenditure, some find themselves trapped on long-haul trawlers for years at a time. This makes the monitoring of enslaves labour on fishing vessels costly and difficult. The Thai Government has faced severe pressure to tackle forced labour specifically in the fishing sector, with the European Commission threatening a trade ban in 2015 for not taking sufficient measures to combat illegal and unregulated fishing that would cause the loss of up to US$1.4million a year in seafood exports. As a result the Government have reportedly accelerated efforts to combat labour exploitation, however despite this most workers in the Thai fishing sectors remain unregistered. 


Yum was in Cambodia looking for work when he decided to travel with friends to Thailand. On the way, they were met by a man who offered them work on his farm, which they accepted. They were forced to work long hours with no wages. After a month, the farmer fled and Yum was offered work on a construction site in Thailand. However, in Thailand Yum arrived not at a construction site but a sea port. It was only after days on a fishing vessel that he was told he had been sold. Subjected to months at sea with poor nutrition and daily beatings, Yum was finally able to escape one the boat reached Indonesian waters. 

One of my friends in the village said he and a few others were leaving to find work. The next day we all got a taxi and headed for Thailand. We were met by a man who said we could work on his cassava farm, earning $130 (£99) a month each, with room and board included. We worked seven days a week, morning until night, for a month, until one evening a Thai man asked how much we were earning. He offered us $200 a month to work on a construction site, but said we’d have to move to Thailand. 


We were confused. Weren’t we already in Thailand? It turned out we were still in Cambodia, and the farmer had already fled without giving us any wages. We were left with no choice but to accept the deal and smuggle ourselves over the border. The man said we’d be charged for being driven to the construction site, but that it could be deducted from our first month’s wages. It was a long, uncomfortable drive in a pickup, and when we finally stopped, we saw that we weren’t at a construction site, but a busy sea port. The broker said the building site had closed, so he’d arranged for us to work on a fishing boat instead. 


We sailed for days and days before they told us we’d been sold to the Thais to work as fishermen. I went to the captain and complained. He beat me so badly, it was impossible for me to work, eat or sleep. I thought I was going to die. We sailed until we were in Indonesian waters. The days turned into weeks and the weeks into months. My health, and the beatings, got worse. 


After about nine months at sea, we arrived at an Indonesian fishing port. I knew I had to try to escape. I waited until it was dark and the others were asleep, and managed to sneak off the boat, swimming the short distance to land and hiding until morning. I was scared, tired, sick and hungry. Eventually, I got to the Indonesian police, who were very kind and let me stay in the police station for two weeks, until the embassy arranged an emergency visa and sent me back to Phnom Penh. My ordeal at sea is over, but my health gets worse every week. I have a newborn baby, a wife and no prospects of work. Maybe I will try to find work again in Thailand. 


Courtesy of the Guardian