Officials from the Cambodian Embassy in Jakarta arrived in the Indonesian city of Tual on Wednesday to begin processing 58 Cambodians who were among more than 300 enslaved fishermen rescued from a remote island last week, according to the Foreign Affairs Ministry.
The fishermen, the majority of whom are Burmese, were rescued from Benjina island in Maluku province by the Indonesian government and sent to Tual following a yearlong investigation by The Associated Press (AP).
The AP revealed that the majority of the fishermen were trafficked through Thailand and forced to work on Thai-captained boats trawling Indonesian waters. They were dumped on Benjina for refusing to work and in response to a moratorium on foreign fishing issued by the Indonesian government.
Koy Kuong, spokesman for Cambodia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, said Wednesday that Cambodian officials were working to identify the 58 Cambodians among the 319 freed from Benjina.
“Officials from our Cambodian Embassy have gone there to check and verify the information,” he said. “If they are Cambodian, Cambodian authorities will work to repatriate them.”
The International Organization for Migration, an intergovernmental body, is assisting the Indonesian government in caring for all 319 rescued fishermen on Tual.
“[The] IOM deputy chief of mission for Indonesia arrived [in Tual] today with Cambodia, Myanmar and Lao embassy representatives,” Joe Lowry, IOM’s regional spokesman, said Wednesday.
“IOM already started assisting embassies with documentation for verification of citizenship to eventually issue travel documents and will begin the process of screening victims of trafficking.”
Mr. Lowry said conditions at the government facility where the fishermen are being cared for were likely “spartan,” but far better than what they endured on Benjina, where some were kept in cages belonging to Pusaka Benjina Resources, the only registered fishing company on the island.
“Local hospital staff come every day for a daily clinic lasting a few hours,” he said.