Inequalities and unemployment in Southeast Asian countries have created thousands of migrant workers.


by CELINE BRUESCHWEILER and NOREEN NAW

ALTHOUGH most would think that slavery ended decades ago, recent incidents on Benjina Island, Indonesia, remind us of its presence in our society today. In April 2015, the Thai and Indonesian governments sent Special Forces to the island to free 300 persons, enslaved by fishing companies, the majority of them from Burma and Cambodia. This response by the authorities arrived following different detailed media reports and investigations into the matter. These inquiries have shown links between international food distributors and unpaid workers in Southeast Asia.

The fishing industry is not attractive for Thai workers or its migrant populations since Typhoon Gay in 1989, which caused the sinking of 200 fishing boats and the death of at least 450 people. Despite the high demand, people do not want to work for fishing companies anymore because it includes 2 or 3 year long periods living in dangerous conditions on fishing vessels
without returning to shore. As a result, and in order to cut labour costs, boat owners resort to slaves. They indenture those fleeing their homelands or from impoverished countries unfortunate enough to end up in the clutches of slavers/traffickers, under the threat of death. The documents of these unlucky souls are taken away by the captains in order to prevent their escape from the vessels.

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 Both Celine and Noreen are interns at the Asian Human Rights Commission.