Final Group of Fisheries ‘Slaves’ to be Repatriated from Indonesia

Posted: 
03/22/16

Indonesia - One year after shocking revelations were made about slavery in the fisheries in Southeast Asia, the last group of men trafficked onto vessels operating in Indonesian waters is preparing to return home.

“The departure of these men will bring to an end one chapter of this tragic story but all the evidence suggests this is the tip of the iceberg and much work needs to be done across the region to better protect the rights of migrant workers and ensure there is no repeat of the abuses they were subjected to over so many years,” IOM Indonesia Chief of Mission Mark Getchell said today, as the 6th Ministerial Conference of the Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime opened in Bali.

“Governments in the region need to come together in fora like this to begin to address the legitimate need for labour in the very demanding fisheries sector while ensuring these vulnerable men are properly paid, treated with respect and dignity, and that overseas consumers can be certain the products they are buying are not tainted by this modern day form of slavery.” 

The 24 Myanmar nationals expected to leave on March 30 are the last of 470 men who have been living in the sprawling port in Ambon – the world's fourth largest fisheries port by volume of catch landed – since the Indonesian Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Affairs announced a moratorium on foreign fisheries in October 2014. Some have not spoken to their families since leaving Myanmar in search of work up to a decade ago, only to be duped into years of brutal, unpaid service on fishing vessels.

Their ordeals only came to an end when the Indonesian moratorium on foreign fishing vessels plying Indonesia’s rich waters forced these vessels to port, allowing the country’s Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fisheries Task Force and IOM access to the men for the first time.

At the request of the Indonesian government and with the generous support of the Australian government through the Australian High Commission in Jakarta, IOM has identified, assisted and repatriated more than 1,200 victims of trafficking from eastern Indonesia since a series of media revelations in late March 2015 lifted the veil on labour abuses at the Benjina fisheries facility in the remote Aru Islands 3,000km east of Jakarta. IOM strongly suspects an additional 800 foreign nationals repatriated by fishing companies and through other means were also victims of trafficking.

A court in eastern Indonesia recently sentenced eight men including five boat captains to jail terms of up to three years and fines totaling over USD 80,000 for human trafficking offences. The judges earmarked most of the fines as compensation for the victims.

“It is tragic to think that despite the ordeals they have endured, these remaining men are actually the lucky ones as they, and the other men we assisted in Ambon, were able to negotiate their pay prior to returning home, unlike the many hundreds who were repatriated earlier in the year,” Getchell said.

“No effort should be spared to pursue the companies involved and demand they compensate all of these unfortunate individuals who lost years of their lives to traffickers, solely to increase the profit margins of these companies. We also remain deeply concerned about the welfare of crew aboard hundreds of vessels that fled Indonesian waters as the moratorium deadline approached.”

Protracted, face-to-face pay negotiations with the companies facilitated by the Indonesian government and the time-consuming process of verifying the identities of the victims are the main reasons for the lengthy process in returning the men to their homes and families.

In addition to the Australian funding support, IOM received additional funding from the United States and Norway to assist these victims of trafficking.

For further information, please contact Paul Dillon, IOM Indonesia, Tel: +62 811 944 4612, Email: pdillon@iom.int

Myanmar fishermen arriving home after being freed from slave-like conditions on boats off the coast of Indonesia (File photo). © IOM 2015