A new investigation has uncovered the inhumane and often gruesome reality lurking behind Thailand’s fishing industry. For the past decade, hundreds of Rohingya migrants have been sold from trafficking camps in Malaysia and Thailand, forced to work on seafood boats for years on end, and often dumped in mass graves upon their demise. In May this year, investigators traced the source of slave-harvested prawns sold in the UK to Thailand, which led to the discovery of a string of trafficking camps along with mass graves that zig-zag through southeast Asia.
The Rohingya people are just the sort of target that modern day slave operations prey upon. In their homeland of Burma, persecution and violence spurred many to leave and head into Thailand seeking refuge. The Guardian was able to speak to several survivors of the jungle base camps, who described their experiences in detail. Many Rohingya men were threatened to be sold into slavery if they didn’t raise a ransom from their families of up to a thousand pounds. Others were sold even after paying the ransom, and then severely beaten while working aboard the offshore fishing boats.
Fishing is big business in Thailand, an industry worth $7.8 billion in 2013. Last year, the Thai seafood product headed for Europe totaled $717 million, and Thailand also exports to other parts of the world. In May, the European Union threatened to effect a ban on Thai seafood imports if the government did not address the human trafficking feeding the industry’s slave trade. Meanwhile, the Thai government issued a 10-day initiative to shut down slave camps and end human trafficking in the fishing industry. Officials claim trafficking is no longer taking place within the country’s borders.
That may technically be true, but reports indicate closed-down trafficking camps have simply relocated to enormous off-shore cargo ships, where potentially thousands of Rohingya people are still being enslaved. Some boat captains are even protesting the government’s clampdown on slave trading, claiming that being forced to register migrant workers is an injustice to them as businessmen. Decades of overfishing and environmental destruction have created a competitive industry, where fishing boat owners are desperate to maximize their take anyway they can, even if it means buying and selling human beings as slaves. The end of slave labor on Thailand’s fishing boats could have a devastating impact on the industry’s future, but perhaps that’s what it will take in order to solve the egregious human rights violations happening at the expense of the bottom line.
Via The Guardian