Kidnapped by Pirates: Cambodian Fishermen Return After Four-Year Ordeal in Somalia

Posted: 
11/01/16
Themes: 
Migrant Assistance

Cambodia – Four Cambodian fishermen, kidnapped in 2012 by Somali pirates, are finally back in the arms of their loved ones. Their waking nightmare came to an end on Sunday night (30/10) when they touched down in Phnom Penh, before happy and emotional reunions with their families.

Their Omani-flagged fishing vessel was seized south of the Seychelles at the height of the region’s piracy crisis in March 2012, making the crew among the second longest-held hostages.

The ship was intentionally sunk in 2013, and the hostages were brought to the Somali mainland. Once ashore, they were moved to Galmudug state in central Somalia. They were held there for almost three years, in deplorable conditions and all have long-term health conditions as a result.

The exact circumstances surrounding their release are not being made public. IOM was asked to provide assistance on the return of the four, and provided airport reception, temporary accommodation in Phnom Penh, hygiene kits, medical checks and some treatment.

IOM also provided a liaison role between the fishermen and the Cambodian Anti-Human Trafficking police, and important counselling services to the families of the survivors before the long awaited and emotional reunion.

One survivor said “I could not wait to see my family again. The anticipation to see them was too much and I have not slept for days. I simply cannot believe I am home.” Likewise the families of the returnees have been without sleep since they heard the news of their return. One relative told IOM “to have them away for so long in such a dangerous situation, we cannot believe they are here. It is overwhelming, and we are so happy. It is hard to put it all into words.”

In keeping with IOM’s policy of confidentiality, the men cannot be identified.

“This is a phenomenal story of survival and resilience in the face of great hardship and danger,” said Leul Mekonnen, IOM Chief of Mission in Cambodia. “It is at the extreme end of the scale, but every person who leaves Cambodia in search of work through irregular channels is potentially exposed to risk. As the UN Migration agency, we are doing our best to provide people with information on safe ways to migrate, and to help them to reintegrate during their return.”

The four men were among the last group of hostages taken by Somali pirates. At the peak of Somalia’s piracy epidemic, more than 750 hostages were taken, of whom, only very small numbers were Cambodians.

For more on IOM’s work assisting the return and reintegration of slave fishermen see http://features.iom.int/stories/marked-men/.

For further information please contact Dr Leul Mekonnen, IOM Cambodia, Email: lmekonnen@iom.int or Joe Lowry, Senior Media Officer and Asia-Pacific Spokesperson, Tel: +66 2 343 9430, Email: jlowry@iom.int