The Guardian newspaper reported that s many as 4,000 fishermen, mostly Burmese with some Cambodians and Thais are being rescued from remote islands of the Indonesian archipelago. A quarter of them are said to be on Benjina, an island in the Aru group south of West Papua.
After the Indonesian government imposed a ban on foreign vessels fishing in the country’s waters, trawler captains dumped their men onto this remote island. Some of the men, however, had been abandoned years ago, for reasons not clearly explained in the news article. They have been living in the jungle and doing what scraps of work they could find to survive.
Many of the stranded are men from Burma who went to neighbouring Thailand looking for work. They were taken by boat to Indonesia, which has some of the world’s richest fishing grounds. Others are Cambodian and a few are from the poorer parts of Thailand.
Steve Hamilton, IOM’s deputy chief of mission in Indonesia, said for every man it has rescued, many more need help. With the fishing ban, boats have docked or fled, ditching their crews.
“It is reasonable to expect many are victims of trafficking, if not outright slavery,” he said.
— The Guardian, 28 March 2015, 4,000 foreign fishermen stranded on remote Indonesian islands. Link.
A subsequent story in The Daily Mail reported on rescue operations at one of these islands — Benjina — where around 400 men were being interviewed and processed by Indonesian authorities.
Indonesian officials probing labor abuses told the migrant workers today they were allowing them to leave for another island by boat out of concern for their safety.
More than 300 fishermen emerged from nearby trawlers, villages and even the jungle to make the trip, having been kept like slaves at the Pusaka Benjina Resources fishing company compound.
The current and former slaves began getting news about the rescue as a downpour started, and some ran through the rain.
They sprinted back to their boats, jumping over the rails and throwing themselves through windows. They stuffed their meagre belongings into plastic bags and rushed back to the dock, not wanting to be left behind.
A small boat went from trawler to trawler picking up men who wanted to go and was soon loaded down with about 30 men.
The Indonesian delegation began interviewing men on boats and assessing the situation on the island this week.
They have been told of the existence of a company graveyard in Benjina and of eight fishermen being locked in a company cage.
The fishermen described being beaten, kicked and whipped with stingray tails and given Taser-like electric shocks.
— The Daily Mail, 3 April 2015, Link.
Associated Press has an interactive site where the human stories are explored. It can be seen here.