Migrants tell of ‘ruined lives’

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TUESDAY, 23 AUGUST 2011

The Nation – Many people from neighbouring countries, who believe that work in Thailand is the ticket to a better life, pay to be smuggled here, oblivious to the risks of human trafficking.

They often end up in conditions that are hellish.

Many migrants seeking paid work end up enslaved in brothels, factories, homes or fishing boats. In the case of women, this can take the form of sexual slavery.

Burmese man Ye, and Sanda, a Christian woman from Chin State in the same country, were among 12 trafficked migrants who shared their bitter stories recently with Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, the UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking. Ezeilo travelled throughout Thailand for 12 days this month to assess the situation here for a report to be submitted to the UN Human Rights Council next year.

After being trafficked into Thailand, Ye, who had been told he would be paid Bt4,200 a month, was forced to work on a fishing boat for free, after being told he would have to pay off debts incurred in bringing him here.

Ye told of migrants who, exhausted and unable to continue working, were simply pushed into the sea. He said he felt hopeless and hated the captain of the boat, who took advantage of him and the other workers.

Another migrant worker told Ye he had already paid off his debt but was forced to con?tinue working, and had been doing so for 10 years. Every time he tried to escape, the Thai police would catch him and return him to the boat, where his debt was topped up with a fee for his attempt to flee.

Ye worked for eight months on one boat. He was never paid for his work and forbidden to keep any cash of his own. Compared to Burma, whose government is often damned as repressive, he felt Thailand was even more like a prison. Once a worker boards a fishing boat, he said, there was often no escape.

Finally, however, Ye was able to escape. He said he could never forgive the captain. He wanted all Burmese thinking of coming to Thailand to hear his story, so they could be spared the same fate.

Sanda, the Christian Chin woman, was trafficked by a Mon couple to work at a construction site in Thailand, only to find herself working without pay in the fishing industry and sexually enslaved.

Sanda had to gut about 50 kg of fish per day for the Mon couple, but never received payment. They said her wages were taken to cover fees paid to “buy” her, and for her rent, which was Bt600 per month.

Every night when she returned to the room, Sanda said she fought the Mon man, who demanded sex. Essentially a sex slave, she fears she may have been infected with HIV.

Sanda was held for one month by the couple before another Mon man “bought” her from the couple and helped her escape. They later married. Sanda and her husband now work at different construction sites, earning Bt200 each per day. Life is a struggle as she has a lot of debt and has to support herself and her children.

Coming to Thailand ruined her life, Sanda said. Since arriving she has been looked down on as if she was not human, she said. Other migrants told her she could expect no legal protection in Thailand.

“There is no law here,” Sanda said. She does not want any more Burmese people to come to the Kingdom and suffer as she has.

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