Desperate Cambodians, recruited into the Thai fishing fleet, have been jumping off their boats to escape life-threatening work conditions. They are often not paid either, reported Nirmal Ghosh , Straits Times’ correspondent in Thailand.  The feature story (Straits Times, 24 March 2012, Thai fishing trade under fire for human trafficking) detailed that about 30 Cambodians have been rescued after jumping overboard from Thai fishing vessels in the last three months.

Last year, Tenaganita, a Malaysian NGO (non-government organisation), helped in the rescue and repatriation of some 100 Cambodians. Many had swum ashore at Tanjung Manis, Sarawak’s largest harbour.

The Straits Times wrote:

Cambodians have told harrowing tales of being promised decent jobs in Thailand only to find themselves put on fishing boats to work long hours without pay far out at sea. Those who fall sick get a few anti-fever tablets. Some of those deemed too ill to work are simply thrown overboard, they claim.

Thailand is said to be at risk of being downgraded to Tier 3 on the United States’ annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report due out in the middle of this year. A Tier 3 ranking can trigger sanctions.

Mr Eaklak Loomchomkhae, who heads anti-trafficking efforts for Thailand’s Mirror Foundation, an NGO, was quoted as saying: “The fishing industry is substandard, dirty and dangerous, and the pay is low.’ In many cases, workers are virtually used as slave labour and not paid.

Rampant across the region

Human trafficking is rampant across the region, wrote Ghosh. While trafficking for the sex trade, often involving children, make headline news, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimated that this group comprised less than 10 per cent of the 9.5 million victims of human trafficking in Asia in 2005. The organisation’s 2005 report also concluded that 10 per cent of young men who worked on fishing boats in South-east Asia did not return from their trips.

Activists want not only a Thai crackdown on trafficking, but also an Asean-wide agreement and mechanism to tackle the issue. ‘There has to be a regional approach to this,’ Ms Irene Fernandez, director of Tenaganita, said in a telephone interview with the Straits Times.