Eight Cambodian workers who were allegedly forced into slavery on a Thai fishing boat, and then stranded in India after serving six-month jail terms there, returned to Cambodia yesterday after 10 months of uncertainty.
The men, all from O’Sralao commune in Banteay Meanchey province’s Malai district, crossed into Thailand on Sept 26, after being promised $9-a-day construction jobs.
Instead, they men said they forced to work on a fishing boat until they were arrested in Indian waters. They were jailed for six months and have spent the last three months waiting to return home, the men said.
Nop Cheth, Rin Run, Rin Rith, Song Mov, Song Pheakdey, Yi Veth, Vy Bunthoeun and Nun Narin–aged between 17 and 45–arrived at Phnom Penh International Airport yesterday morning.
Kim Sovanna, deputy director of the legal and consular department at the Foreign Ministry, said the government had coordinated with the Indian Embassy and the International Organization for Migration to repatriate the eight men.
The workers “were protected by the government when we became aware of the case,” he added.
Bruno Maltoni, project coordinator for the IOM in Phnom Penh, said his organization had helped support the men financially after they were released from jail in India and had paid for their return to Cambodia.
Mr Pheakdey said by telephone that a Cambodian ringleader had sold them to a Thai fishing boat owner. “When we woke up on the fishing boat, a Thai worker told us we had been cheated,” he said.
“After that, the Thai man was killed. We were very scared,” he added.
Mr Pheakdey said he hoped other Cambodian citizens would stop looking for migrant work in Thailand in case they end up being cheated.
Members of the worker’s families said they had not been informed of their relatives’ return.
“I did not know my sons had returned to Cambodia,” Song Nhean, father of Mr Mov and Mr Pheakdey, said.
(Additional reporting by Ian Williamson)