Trafficked Fishermen Return Home

Fourteen Cambodian fishermen arrived in Phnom Penh on Sunday, six months after their escape from a Thai fishing boat that Malaysian authorities said was staffed by trafficked laborers, according to the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

The fishermen were picked up by authorities in January after the Thai boat docked in the Malaysian port of Sarawak on Borneo island. They were overworked and fled due to poor conditions on the vessel, said Chum Sounry, a ministry spokesman.

“They were working on the Thai boat, but because of difficult conditions, the 14 escaped,” Mr. Sounry said. “After they escaped from the boat, they were arrested.”

All 14 men, whose ages range from 19 to 44, are from Kompong Thom’s Sandan district and had worked on the boat since last year, according to a ministry statement, which did not provide an exact date.

The men were allegedly cheated by a broker in Sandan district who offered them employment on the Thai fishing vessel, the statement says. Neither the statement nor Mr. Sounry provided details on how the men were allegedly cheated.

After their arrest in Sarawak, the group was transported to Melaka state, where they were detained until officials concluded their investigation into the vessel and its crew—ultimately classifying the case as human trafficking, Mr. Sounry said.

Malaysian authorities notified Cambodian embassy officials, who issued “official permission to return” orders for the men, including two who did not have passports. The statement did not say whether Thai authorities had been notified of the trafficking allegations or whether the boat and its captain had been identified or pursued.

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