The Interior Ministry’s anti-human trafficking department on Monday questioned an administrator at a maritime school over complaints lodged in September by seven former students who claim they were forced to flee a pair of Chinese-owned cargo ships after working in slave-like conditions.
Pen Channa, deputy chief of the department’s cross-border trafficking bureau, said he had questioned Huy Srey Mom, a manager at the Cambodia Marine Human Resource Institute (CMHRI) in Phnom Penh, and summoned the school’s owner for questioning today.
“Today we called [Ms. Srey Mom] for questioning over the cargo ships, but I cannot share any details, because we are still processing the case,” Mr. Channa said.
“Tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, we will question more people,” he said.
The seven men claim the CMHRI misled them about the nature of the work they would have to perform on the Chinese-owned Blue Emperor I and Xin Shang.
“The school promised that…we would have skills training on the ship for at least six months, and that afterward we would work on the ship and receive a [monthly] salary of about $500,” one of the seven, Sorm Chamroeun, 28, said in September.
“But after the six months, into my seventh month, I did not get my salary,” he said, adding that he had paid the maritime school $2,060 in fees.
Contacted after being questioned on Monday, Ms. Srey Mom declined to comment. Other CMHRI representatives could not be reached.
Eng Socheat, 35, one of the former students present at the Interior Ministry during questioning on Monday, said he was there to encourage authorities to “speed up the case and find justice.”
“I want the school to pay my money back and demand that the school, which cheated us, is punished,” Mr. Socheat said, adding that he had paid $1,860 in fees.
“I borrowed the money from a microfinance institution to pay the school, but I got nothing back for it. How can I find the money to pay that loan back?”