Trafficked Myanmar Fishermen Return Home from Indonesia

Posted: 
05/15/15

Myanmar - Over 500 fishermen from Myanmar are on their way home after a nightmare ordeal of years of slavery on the seas off Indonesia.

Since the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries stepped in to rescue and evacuate these trafficking victims two months ago, IOM has been working closely with the governments involved to facilitate their repatriation.

IOM Indonesia has been present on Tual island, where the rescued fishermen are staying, providing food, water and medical assistance, alongside the Indonesian authorities.

“IOM welcomes the prompt action of the Indonesian government to shelter the men in a safer place and the initiative of the Myanmar government to arrange charter flights to bring the victims back home.  These men have all suffered a terrible ordeal and the main priority now is to get them home safely,” said Kieran Gorman-Best, Chief of Mission for IOM Myanmar.

The repatriation has been made possible with the support of the Indonesian, Myanmar,  Australian, US and Norwegian governments.

The Myanmar government is sending two chartered flights to Ambon Island to link up with IOM-arranged domestic flights. On Thursday (14/5) the first planeload of 125 Myanmar victims returned home and another flight leaves this weekend. Two more will follow in the coming weeks.   

The operation was facilitated by the Myanmar government, notably its embassy in Jakarta, the Central Body for Suppression of Trafficking in Persons (CBTIP), the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Division of the Myanmar Police Force, the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Department of Social Welfare of the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement.         

The majority of the Myanmar caseload come from the Delta region and the south east of country, mainly from the coastal areas of Ayeyarwaddy, Mon, Thanintharyi, as well as Bago, Yangon, and Kayin. Most are aged between 21 and 40 and have primary or middle-school education.

Over the last two years over 287 Myanmar victims of trafficking have been returned from Indonesia, with the majority trafficked onto fishing boats.

“One of the greatest concerns now is reintegration support, as we know many of the men will return to their families in debt and with medical and psychosocial needs. We also cannot forget the need for them to be paid their salaries and ensure that action is taken against the brokers who profited from this trade,” said Gorman-Best.

IOM Indonesia together with the Indonesian authorities will continue to search and rescue other fishermen believed to be stranded in other remote locations in Indonesia. IOM and the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries are currently back on Benjina Island to arrange the evacuations of all remaining Myanmar citizens to Tual island and eventually home.

 For more information please contact Kieran Gorman-Best at IOM Myanmar, Email: kgormanbest@iom.int, Tel. +95 943171025 or Mark Getchell at IOM Indonesia, Email: mgetchell@iom.int, Tel. +62-21-5795-1275.

The first of hundreds of Myanmar fishermen arriving home after being freed from  slave-like conditions on boats off the coast of Indonesia.  © IOM 2015