Fourteen Myanmar migrants forced to work on an Indonesian fishing boat returned to Myanmar on Tuesday after their government and an international organization arranged their release, the government said.
Government officials and officers from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) welcomed the migrants after they arrived at the airport in the commercial city Yangon, according to a post on the Facebook page of Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The 14 men were part of a larger group of 19 trafficked Myanmar migrants rescued on July 10 from slave-like conditions on a boat moored off the southern Thai city of Pattani, near the Thailand-Malaysia border.
The ministry did not mention the status of the other five migrants.
The Myanmar Association in Thailand (MAT), a Myanmar nongovernmental organization that helps migrant workers, and the Anti-Human Trafficking Division (AHTD) of the Royal Thai Police had found the men locked inside the boat.
The men range in age from 13 to 34 and are from southern Myanmar’s Mon and Tanintharyi regions and from western Rakhine state, said MAT director Kyaw Thaung in a previous report by Radio Free Asia, a sister entity of BenarNews.
Thai authorities have arrested two traffickers, a Thai businessman and a Myanmar woman from Mon State. The woman had promised some of the migrants factory jobs in Pattaya, a resort city on the Gulf of Thailand, but instead transported them to Pattani, the online journal The Irrawaddy reported.
Thailand’s fishing industry relies heavily on trafficked and forced labor, especially from Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos, according to a 2014 report issued by the Environmental Justice Foundation, a U.K.-based nonprofit organization that focuses on protecting the environment and defending human rights.
Many of the estimated 200,000 migrants from Thailand’s neighboring countries have been trafficked and forced to work in appalling conditions with no pay and subjected to brutal control, the report said.
Migrants in Malaysian camps
In a related development, the Myanmar government said Tuesday that it will bring 3,000 Myanmar migrant workers back from detention camps in Malaysia starting in August.
Thein Swe, minister of labor, immigration and population, told reporters after a parliamentary meeting that the migrants had already served their terms for illegally entering Malaysia.
The workers are from Kyauktaw township in the Sittwe district of western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, he said.
Nearly 2,000 migrant workers from Myanmar are being held in camps in Malaysia for various reasons, including immigration violations, according to a recent report in the Myanmar Times.
More than 300 have already served their sentences but they are unable to return to Myanmar because they have no money, the report said.
More than 60 Myanmar workers left the camps and returned home earlier this month after authorities confirmed their citizenship status, it said.
Many Myanmar migrant workers in Malaysia and Thailand—especially those in the country illegally—are at risk of being trafficked as sex workers or for slave-like labor on fishing boats, experts warn.