Friday, January 16, 2009

Traffickers prey on Cambodian men

Thursday, January 15, 2009
By Jon Gorvett
International Herald Tribune (Paris, France)

POPOK, Cambodia: "They killed one crewman for something very simple," said Thung Yeap. "He just wanted to go home. He kept asking. So in the end, the captain shot him dead."

Thung Yeap is one of the lucky survivors of a journey that starts in some of Cambodia's poorest villages and sometimes ends, fatally, in the waters of the South China Sea.

According to local law enforcers and international agencies, hundreds like Thung Yeap, mostly Cambodian farmers, have fallen victim in recent years to traffickers who turn them over to crews on Thai fishing boats, where they work without pay and often at gunpoint.

"It is an issue that needs urgent attention," said Lim Tith, national project coordinator for the United Nations' Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking, or Uniap, in Phnom Penh. "It really is a kind of descent into hell."

Kept at sea sometimes for years, these men, who have typically paid to be smuggled into Thailand with the promise of good factory jobs, are often treated brutally, subjected to beatings and even death for any attempted escape.

Until recently their plight fell under the radar of regional law enforcement agencies. Far from shore, the abuse they suffer evades detection, and legal jurisdiction is murky. The victims themselves have often hesitated to seek help, fearing they could be prosecuted as illegal immigrants.

Only in the past year have Thailand and Cambodia expanded trafficking laws written to protect women and children who were sold or tricked into prostitution or other forms of forced labor to explicitly include men. The hope is that men who find themselves in another country as a result of trafficking will be more likely to approach the authorities and be given assistance, because they will be recognized as victims rather than illegal migrants.

Cambodia and Malaysia also recently signed a memorandum of understanding on combating trafficking, as many of the Thai fishing boats operate in Malaysian waters.

Thung Yeap was able to return home to Popok village in Kampong Thom Province last month because he escaped when his fishing boat made a rare stop in port in Sarawak, in the Malaysian part of the island of Borneo. The Malaysian authorities detained him as an illegal immigrant before sending him back to Cambodia.

He and Dorn Chenda, who is from Steung Saen village in Kampong Thom, ended up in the same detention center in Sarawak, and Uniap worked with the Cambodian human rights group Licadho to have them repatriated to Cambodia.

Kampong Thom is one of the country's poorest districts, blighted until just 10 years ago by fighting between Cambodian government troops and Khmer Rouge guerrillas.

"People live hand to mouth round here," said Prak Phanna, village headman of Anlong Kranh, a village near Popok. "We used to make some money cutting and burning trees for charcoal, but the government made this illegal recently, so we have nothing. I'd say most people maybe make $20 to $30 a month around here. So, when the young men can't make ends meet, they go to Thailand."

Chorn Theong Ly, also from Anlong Kranh, was among them.

"One day a middleman came to our village," he recalled. "He said he would take us to Thailand, where we could have an easy life, working in factories. He said we'd earn 4,000 baht a month there," an amount equal to $115. "So, we each paid him 3,000 to smuggle us across the border."

What followed was a nightmare.

"When we got to Thailand we were taken to a house in Samut Prakan" - a seaside province south of Bangkok - "and locked up there. We began to realize then that something was wrong. At 4 a.m. they came for us, the traffickers, and took us straight to the boats. It was then we realized we had been sold to a fishing captain. And by then it was too late to act."

Forced to work under the supervision of an armed Thai crew, the Cambodians - some of whom had never been afloat before - suffered terribly.

"We were all seasick, and I remember vomiting blood," said Chorn Theong Ly. "The captain beat me, too, using an octopus tentacle as a whip. I was beaten almost unconscious. I also saw other crew members killed, twice - one shot, the other beaten to death, when he refused to work."

The promised wages never arrived.

"After four months at sea," said Dorn Chenda. "I started demanding my wages. They told me they had sent them to my wife back in Cambodia. But it turned out they'd never paid her a penny."

The boats typically operate out of ports like the one in Samut Prakan.

"That is one place where there are many houses where the traffickers can lock up the new arrivals," said Manfred Hornung, monitoring consultant with Licadho. "They are brought there illegally, so have no papers, and are totally at the mercy of the traffickers."

The Thai police say they are aware of the practice but say that enforcement is difficult.

"When some do escape, they usually don't want to talk to the police," said Lieutenant Colonel Thakoon Nimsombun of the Thai Justice Ministry's Department of Special Investigations Anti-Trafficking Center, often referred to as DSI. "When they go back to Cambodia, they just disappear, and it's difficult to find them again."

Lisa Rende Taylor, chief technical adviser at the Bangkok office of Uniap, said that until the anti-trafficking laws were extended to cover men, there was little incentive for victims to cooperate.

"In one case, when a boat had put out to sea and run out of gas, many of the trafficked crew had died, with the bodies thrown overboard," she said. "When the boat was finally brought back to port, there was a big question as to what law to prosecute them under. The crew were classed as illegal immigrants, so how could they testify without being arrested?"

Another problem, said Police Colonel Akarapol Punyopashtambha of the DSI, "When the crimes are committed, they are out at sea, and there are a lot of jurisdictional problems there. They may be at sea for years, too, so it's hard to get to them."

Meanwhile, in Kampong Thom, the survivors of this ordeal at sea are now trying to come to terms with their experience.

"We were always thinking of escaping," recalled Thung Yeap. "There was no way, though. We were powerless. The sea itself was our prison."


Anonymous said...

Hun Sen, please open your eyes widely and look at your own people. These are khmer and need your urgent care.

You used to be a peasant just like these people on the article, and yet when you became powerfull you forgot about where you came from.

I hope you and your officals have some feeling toward humanity.

Anonymous said...

Gov’t should make an effort to curb down on human smugglers and lock them up before more people became sufferers. These traffickers are running scam business and got no mercy on innocents. People should be ware, too about Thailand. It’s not a golden mountain there. It is life and death and it's HELL since they discriminated against Khmers. Stay in your country, no matter what circumstances.

Anonymous said...

The one-eye gangster Viet puppet Hun Sen regime in Phnom Penh does not care about Khmer.

Ah Hun Sen will let all those Khmers left over from the Killing Fields die systematically while moving the Viet populace in, assisting them and caring for them as per the secret agreements and treaties ah Hun Sen had signed with the Viet.

So please don't talk about the future of Khmer and Khmer's children anymore. There will not be native Khmers left to care for or to worry about anymore. Look at what the life expectancy of all of those Khmers in the country now - Anybody knows?

In the end, there will be just Viet in Cambodia and maybe a very few Khmer left over but vietnamized from head to toe....

Look around in Phnom Penh now...and tell me what you see...

If all of you SOB want to help Cambodia, you'd better do it and do it pretty soon...or you will have nothing left to save at all...

Hope all of you SOB gets this message!!!

Anonymous said...

21st century slavery

Anonymous said...

Thais are doing businesses with blood money. These bloody businesses are contributing to their economic successes. They have been the spoil brat over looking by the world of their crimes. It is above time the world should know the true colors of this evil country of which they called themselves "the land of smile." This land of smile is killing the innocent people of their neighbors and truthfully exploiting them at their weakness. Please do something those innocent people who are just trying to make a living like us.

Anonymous said...

These thais are so cruel barbaric like khmer rouge just khmer rouge are being trained to hated and butcher Khmer by Vietcong but thais earn it from the womb of its mama

what's barbaric race

Anonymous said...

This is really a sad thing I ever heard. Education is very important to get our people understand and thoughtful before doing something. In other way, our gov't did not care enough to her people. Why American Gov't gets so strong on the globe regarding on polictics and other affairs. The reason is very simple. She takes care her people at wherever he/she is. Therefore, US people is very united. Hopefully, Cambodian Gov't can immitate on this point.

God bless Cambodian!

KHMER HERO said...

I think what should happen is when something bad happens especially when law and order is concerned the gov't needs to draft a law right away and not hold back or simply ignore the situation. Somebody needs to kill Hun Sen so he can be replace by somebody more educated and who can challenge any opponents relating to the Khmer Nation. The reason why Khmer people go to Thailand is because there are no jobs in srok Khmer. What the gov't need to do is have a stimulus plan like the U.S and shell it back to the country where it needs the most help so jobs can be created at all levels whether it's painting the pagoda or picking up trash. The only way to have a successful nation is to have jobs for people so they can earn some form of monetary accomplishment. We need to kick the Youn out of srok khmer because they are illegal immigrants in our country. They have their own country right next door why do they need to come to our country. Their country is more richer than ours why Cambodia. The gov't needs to confront law and order for our country to survive and without it our khmer nation will be paralyzed forever.

Anonymous said...

Ah Kwafk is not willing to change and transfer the leadership to someone else but hold on to the power until he drops dead. Mark my word folks. Look at the first election when lost to FUNCIPEC. He rather becomes a co-premiership than releasing the power to Ranarith at the time. Cambodians will have a better living only when ah Kwafk goes to HELL.

Anonymous said...

Hun Sen can't even create the jobs for his citizen,what all of us expected. This they called if you blind but not illiterate but if the prime minister self selected get both of the problems the whole country will be miserable and soon will be disappear.

Anonymous said...

What law to prosecute them?! How about murder? But, again, anybody get away with murder for killing Cambodian. Always has been, still is and will be.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Assassinate Hun Sen and change the regime

Anonymous said...

Hun Sen has no gut to protect Cambodian people so what we support him for?

Anonymous said...

Oh no? Then why don't you come over and try to harm them?

Anonymous said...

Cause HUN SEN is blind, he can't see all around him.

That's why the Thai looking down on us Khmer.

Why HUN SEN is soooo blind about this??

Where is his 2000 advisors????

Khmer PP,

Anonymous said...

Lightning will take care of him soon!!!! See what happen to ah Hok landy?

No body to crimated!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Bravo! i agree w/11:36AM!