Returning Laborers Tell of 21-Hour Work Days

After jumping ship to escape hunger and abuse aboard Thai fishing trawlers in the South China Sea, 17 Cambodian men are on their way back home from Malay­sia, officials said Thursday during a cere­mony to mark World Migra­tion Day.

Nine of the men arrived at Phnom Penh International Airport on Thursday, and the other eight are scheduled to fly to Cam­bo­dia on Monday, said John Mc­Geo­ghan of the International Organi­za­tion for Migration.

They will receive medical, psychological and other services be­fore being brought back to their homes in Phnom Penh and eight provinces, he said.

Most of the 17 men, who range in ages from 18 to 33, have told au­thor­ities that they went to Thailand willingly because they thought they had secured jobs as construction workers, said Manfred Hornung, a legal adviser with Licadho.

Instead, the men were forced to work grueling 21-hour days aboard Thai fishing boats, while enduring abuse and food shortages.

They jumped ship and end­ed up in Malaysia, where they wor­k­ed as laborers until Malaysian po­lice ar­rested them for not having immigration documents, Hornung said.

The Cambodian and Malaysian governments, and organizations including the International Labor Organization, Licadho and the UN, arranged the homecoming after some of the laborers were able to contact their families in Cambodia earlier this year.

At an event in Phnom Penh to mark international migration day, Seng Sakda, chief of the labor and vocational training department at the Labor Ministry, said legal mi­gra­tion bolsters Cambo­dia’s eco­nomy by bringing in mo­ney from abroad.

Migrants will funnel an estimated $300 million back into the economy this year, Seng Sakda said on the sidelines of the ceremony.

Illegal migration—in the form of human trafficking for sex work or labor—has decreased, he said, because the government is working to combat it through education.

“[The public] understands more and more about human trafficking,” he said.

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