Rescued fishermen say hundreds trapped in south
FOUR Myanmar fishermen who were enslaved on Thai fishing boats and later abandoned on remote Indonesian islands have recounted how they again became trapped on a trawler – this time in their home country.
Last week, following another rescue, they told The Myanmar Times the abuse they had endured in Myanmar was beyond anything they had experienced overseas and called on the government to immediately launch an investigation.
The four fishermen from Kayin State’s Myawady township had ventured to Ah Sin village in Mon State in May this year, where a friend helped them to find work on a local boat.
At first, all seemed to be going well. They found jobs easily enough onboard the Khit Lu Ngal, a vessel owned by an Ah Sin villager. They were promised monthly wages of K100,000 each.
But after plying the Andaman Sea for a month, they realised they were trapped, and had been trafficked once again, they said.
“We faced an even worse situation in the Myanmar fishing industry than in Indonesia. Fisherman are always being beaten by the helmsmen [in Myanmar]” said Ko Hlaing Min, who had previously been enslaved for 5 years on a boat in Indonesia.
“We were forced to work for about 19 hours every day. We didn’t bathe for a whole month. We want the government to know that the plight of enslaved Myanmar fishermen is worse in our own country than it is overseas,” he said.
Fisherman Ko Thant Zin, who had previously worked in a form of indentured servitude on a boat in Indonesia for 8 years, said he was nearly beaten to death by the Myanmar helmsman.
“Although I cried for mercy by hugging his leg, he only stopped beating me when his stick broke,” he said.
Ko Thant Zin said he had been beaten because another man had not woken up to take over from him on sentry duty.
The four men were rescued by the human trafficking police taskforce after Ko Hlaing Min reported what was happening to Daw Ohnmar Ei Ei Chaw, country program coordinator at the Australia-Asia Program to Combat Trafficking in Persons.
The rescued fishermen say that there are hundreds of others also working as slaves on Myanmar fishing boats off the coast of Mon State and Tanintharyi Region. They say that many people are sold to fishing boats by brokers where they do not get paid and are subjected to physical abuse.
The four victims said that currently in Myanmar there are no officials or departments dedicated to tackling the issue, as is the case in Indonesia, where authorities conduct checks of the fishermen’s identities or of the number of fishermen on boats when they leave or return to shore.
The rescued men called on the government to save the hundreds of other people who are being abused and exploited on fishing boats in Myanmar.
This is not the first reporting of such abuse on Myanmar fishing boats on the Andaman Sea. In July of this year, another human trafficking case was uncovered in Ah Sin village.
In that case, 11 people were also sold to a fishing boat in Ah Sin village by a broker where they were forced to work without pay and were subjected to horrific conditions. They were rescued by the human-trafficking taskforce on July 8 and 12 after they made a plea for help to the Confederation of Trade Unions Myanmar.