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Thai authorities rescued more than 50 migrant workers, including eight Burmese nationals, who had been trafficked and were forced to work as slave labourers on fishing boats in Chonburi on Wednesday.
Officials from the Royal Thai Police’s Anti-Human Trafficking Division along with local officials and the Royal Thai Navy rescued the 58 migrants, a majority of whom were Cambodian nationals.
The migrants had been working on four fishing boats at Samaesan fishing village in Sattahip town, according to Labour Rights Promotion Network’s director Sompong Srakaew.
The rescue mission was carried out after a Burmese migrant working on one of the boats contacted the NGO.
“The [Burmese migrant] phoned us and reported the situation a few months ago and since then, we have made about three attempts to approach the boats – it finally was successful,” said Sompong Srakaew.
“They were sold to the fishing boats by their ‘job broker’ and forced to repay the money [paid to the trafficker] with their labour – they were not allowed to leave the boats.”
He said the victims were being kept at the Protection and Occupational Development Centre in Pathum Thani province and are not allowed to see visitors as authorities proceed with the investigation.
The Thai police’s Department of Special Investigation is holding the three ship captains who oversaw operations on the suspect vessels in custody.
Following the rapid expansion of Thailand’s economy in the 1990s and 2000s, the Kingdom has been forced to rely largely on foreign migrants to fill manual labour positions in the country’s construction, agriculture and fishing sectors.
Impoverished migrants arriving near Thailand’s bustling coastal hubs are particularly vulnerable to falling victim to schemes were human traffickers pose as job recruiters and end up selling individuals to boat captains.
According to an investigation published on Global Post last year, labourers from Cambodia and Burma in Thailand’s commercial fishing hub at Samut Sakhon are “sold” for an estimated US$ 600 to fishing boats.