Phnom Penh (AsiaNews / Agencies) - At least 58 Cambodian citizens are among the more than 300 fishermen, forced to work in conditions of slavery, discovered and rescued recently in a remote island in the Moluccas province, Indonesia.
In recent days, the government of Jakarta has discovered a group of migrant workers trapped on the islet of Benjina, following an investigation conducted by some reporters of the Associated Press (AP) which lasted over a year.
The investigation revealed the presence of fishermen from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia trapped on the island; the migrant workers were forced to work under threats, in conditions of semi-slavery, on board vessels flying the Thai flag, specialized in trawling in Indonesian territorial waters.
On board the fishing vessels the migrants were subject to abuse and harassment, including whippings with ropes made of toxic material; they were abandoned on the island, for refusing to work and a law passed recently by Jakarta to clamp down on illegal activities. Some of the fishermen were locked inside cages belonging to Pusaka Benjina Resources, the only fishing company authorized to operate on the island; others were hiding in the forest to escape their torturers.
According to figures provided by the International Organization for Migrants (ILO) 58 of 319 rescued fishermen were Cambodian. from The Ap investigation also shows that at least a thousand fishermen, at different times, were stranded on the island of Benjina, a true international hub of forced labor and of modern slavery linked to the fisheries sector.
Every year, thousands of Cambodian migrant workers cross the border with Thailand, in search of employment and better living conditions. However, most of them enter the country without proper documents, after paying unscrupulous traffickers who profit on trafficking with the promise (in vain) of a job. According to experts, the lack of documents and permits make them vulnerable and easy victims of forced labor, as happened to the fishermen who were rescued in Indonesia.
In early February the Catholic Church dedicated a day of prayer and awareness on the issue of human trafficking and modern forms of slavery. According to Pope Francis it is "a shameful scourge, unworthy of a civilized society" and addressing leaders and governments the pope asked them to “move decisively" to remove it.