IOM, Indonesia Cooperate on Maritime Security as Trafficking Victims Head Home


Indonesia - Efforts to repatriate the first of hundreds of men trafficked onto foreign fishing boats last week coincided with the latest International Organization for Migration and the Indonesian government cooperative maritime security initiative.

Forty-six of 360 Myanmar nationals identified as victims of trafficking during a June assessment by IOM conducted at the request of Indonesian authorities in the sprawling port of Ambon, 2,400km east of the capital Jakarta, returned home with IOM’s assistance over the past week.

The men in Ambon are among almost 1,200 new trafficking cases IOM has identified since a March 2015 media expose.

The Indonesian government’s efforts to manage trafficking and other security and law enforcement-related activities on the high seas were on the agenda  of last week’s “Building Partnerships for Indonesian Maritime Security” workshop.

Sponsored by IOM and Coventry University’s Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, the event brought together practitioners, academics and policy makers to map a strategy to cooperate on maritime security issues, a key element of the “maritime axis” that Indonesian President Joko Widodo sees as the nation’s birth-right and future.

“There’s broad consensus about the need to bring all these players together to support the President’s vision by coming up with concrete strategies and building networks between research bodies,” said IOM Indonesia deputy chief of mission Steve Hamilton.

“We want to ensure there is a solid platform for the joint research efforts and policy discussions that will ensure the success of that vision.”

IOM Indonesia helped repatriate over 500 victims of trafficking from locations around the archipelago nation prior to March 2015.

The first IOM/CTPSR event was held in April, just weeks after an Associated Press investigation drew international attention to the plight of fishermen from Myanmar, Cambodia and Lao PDR being coerced, tricked or press-ganged overseas into working on vessels in often appalling conditions.

As a result of the AP expose, a further 600 Victims of Trafficking (VOTs) were rescued from vessels based in the Benjina fisheries hub in the Aru islands.  IOM assessed the men, assisted with their day-to-day needs, and organized and paid for their return home.

Thus far 46 men from the separate Ambon caseload have flown to Yangon with IOM’s help, and more movements are expected in the coming days as issues relating to back-pay are resolved one case at a time. Ambon port authorities and representatives of the Myanmar embassy have brokered meetings between the fishermen and the Indonesian companies they once worked for. IOM has no role in these negotiations other than as an observer.

There is continuing broad disagreement between the fishing companies and the trafficked men on the specific amounts of back salary owed to the men, said IOM Indonesia chief of Mission, Mark Getchell.

“While some men have agreed to the reduced amounts offered by the companies, others are sticking to their guns and refuse to return home until they are paid back salaries and bonuses to which they believe they are entitled,” he said.

“It was gratifying to see them returned home safely, and we look forward to all of these victims of trafficking and forced labour being paid their due salaries after the ordeals they have endured. What all sides need to understand, however, is that any such payment of back salaries does not whitewash the crime. Those who facilitated the trafficking, whether here or abroad, should be investigated and held accountable,” Getchell added.

The Ambon cases were based on interviews with crew from roughly one-third of the foreign vessels that have been berthed in Ambon harbor since the Indonesian government announced a moratorium on foreign fisheries in the country in Nov 2014. IOM has not been able to interview the crew on the balance of the vessels registered to the harbor. At least some of the men including 230 Cambodian nationals suspected of having been trafficked, were repatriated by the fishing companies shortly after the government’s task force asked IOM to begin its assessments.

For further information please contact Paul Dillon, IOM Jakarta, Tel. +62 811 944 4612 Email:

IOM staff interviews Myanmar victims of trafficking in Ambon, Indonesia. © IOM/Ario Ap 2015