Trafficked Cambodians returned from Thai fishing boat 'slavery'

Trafficked Cambodians returned from Thai fishing boat 'slavery'
A group of 69 rescued Thai fishermen are pictured inside a Thai military plane in Ambon airport in Indonesia's Maluku province on April 9, 2015 during their repatriation. A large number of fishermen from Myanmar and Thailand with smaller group from Cambodia and Laos were rescued by Indonesia's illegal fishing task force accompanied by Thai officials during an operation at the private Indonesian fishing firm Pusaka Benjina Resources on April 3, 2015 on the remote Benjina island of Maluku provinc

PHNOM PENH - More than 200 Cambodian fishermen rescued from "slave-like conditions" on Thai fishing boats in Indonesian waters returned home on Thursday, some after years of captivity, officials and victims said.

Some 230 fishermen who were trafficked to work on Thai fishing vessels in Indonesian waters have been rescued since May, according to a statement from the Cambodian foreign ministry.

All but 17 of them were flown to Phnom Penh on Thursday morning from Indonesia's Ambon island on a jet hired by the PT Maribu Industries Group, a company representing the Thai boats, Chou Bun Eng, Secretary of State at the Ministry of Interior, told reporters.

The remaining 17 will be flown to Cambodia later Thursday, she said, adding the company had agreed to pay outstanding salaries to the entire group.

"Some of them are in bad health. One cannot walk. His body is partly paralysed," Chou Bun Eng added.

Sam Nak, 29, who was trafficked four years ago to work on a Thai fishing boat off Ambon, described enduring "slave-like conditions" before he was rescued by Indonesian authorities.

"I was forced to work day and night," he told AFP after arriving in Phnom Penh.

"It was like slavery. We had little time to rest," Sam Nak, said, adding that he was owed around $3,000.

The repatriations follow the return of more than 100 fishermen last month from Indonesia's island of Benjina.

In April Indonesia set up a special team to probe allegations of slavery in its fishing industry after nationals from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand were found trawling Indonesia's bountiful fishing grounds.

Thailand, the world's third largest seafood producer, is under international scrutiny after a slew of revelations about rampant exploitation in its fishing industries.

Thai companies have been linked to shadowy fishing operations in Indonesia, where many vessels are suspected of enslaving foreign fishermen - including Thais.

Cambodians desperate to make money outside of one of Southeast Asia's poorest countries often become trafficking victims.

Last year, a Taiwanese woman was jailed for 10 years by a Cambodian court for trafficking hundreds of people to work on fishing boats off Africa.

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