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Three Burmese migrants trafficked into Thailand and forced for years to work aboard a fishing boat have been rescued by the migrant rights advocacy group Myanmar Association in Thailand (MAT).
MAT director Kyaw Thaung said his group had been following the case for several months, waiting for an opportunity to rescue the slaves in the eastern Thai port of Chonburi.
On 25 January, MAT staffers, with assistance from local village officials, rescued the three men from a Chonburi dock after their boat returned to shore.
“The docks of Chonburi are basically centres for forced labour: torture; murder and narcotic abuse – the [migrants] were locked up in a room when they arrived there, and only paid in yaba [amphetamines] for their work,” said Kyaw Thaung.
“We have been following this case for a while, but raiding a fishing boat is not an easy thing to do – it took us months. Finally we went to rescue them when we got a tipoff that the boat was returning to the dock.
“This time, we did not have the police with us as we were told having them along may put the victims in danger. So instead we worked with the village headman for this rescue.”
He said the Burmese men had been working on the boat from three months to up to three years. They were handed over to the Burmese embassy in Bangkok by the MAT.
However, the embassy’s labour attaché Aung Ko Than said they are yet to look into the case.
“We are preparing arrangements for follow-up action. We haven’t checked on them yet as we were busy yesterday,” said the official.
Ye Myat Zaw, one of the victims, currently accommodated at the Burmese embassy, said they were not provided food at the embassy, though an official gave them a total of 140 baht (US$4) to pay for dinner.
“It’s okay staying here at the embassy, but there is no food for us. At 10pm, an embassy staffer gave us 140 baht for the three of us to get food – they said that’s all they had,” said Ye Myat Zaw.
“And as food around here [in downtown Bangkok] is expensive, we could only afford an apple at 35 baht each.”
The three said that, despite the harsh experience they endured, they were still keen to remain in Thailand and make a living as legal migrants.
The fishery firm that enslaved them operated over 50 fishing boats, mostly staffed with poorly paid Burmese migrants.
In the first six months of this year, MAT has rescued 303 human trafficking victims in 21 cases.
At a meeting last week with Thai caretaker Prime Minister Prayut Chan o-cha, Burma’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi urged him to ensure the protection of Burmese migrants enslaved on Thai fishing boats, and to afford them legal rights.
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