Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Thai scheme draws outrage

Thai scheme draws outrage

Migrant workers from Myanmar stand on a fishing boat
Migrant workers from Myanmar stand on a fishing boat as it arrives at the port in the southern Thai city of Pattani earlier this year. AFP

Thai scheme draws outrage

Thailand wants to swap the crews aboard its notoriously abusive fishing boats, trading trafficking victims for prison inmates whose sentences will soon elapse.

The proposal – which seeks to remedy the country’s prison overcrowding and trafficking problems simultaneously – was initially shot down by the cabinet, but has since been resurrected as a pilot project that doesn’t need approval, according to Human Rights Watch.

Last week, Thailand’s labour minister announced that 176 inmates, with one year or less remaining on their sentences, would be recruited on a voluntary basis to help staff fishing fleets and replace the forced migrant labourers.

Chronic workforce shortages in Thailand’s $7.3-billion seafood industry have helped fuel a human-trafficking supply chain from neighbouring countries.

No official registers indicate how many men have been sold to Thai fishing vessels, but independent surveys have estimated that the boats are manned by upwards of 200,000 to 300,000 migrants from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.

But with 320,000 total prisoners in Thailand and many fewer eligible, let alone willing to risk their life and health on the boats, migrant advocates say the program is unlikely to curtail trafficking in the industry or exchange one cheap, vulnerable labour supply for another.

“The labour shortages on the fishing vessels are a direct result of . . . hardship and exploitation as no worker would like to work in such a condition if they had a choice,” said Reiko Harima, regional coordinator at the Mekong Migration Network.

“In order to reduce trafficking, the government needs to ensure that all the workers onboard the fishing vessels work in a safe and dignified condition.”

Thailand’s Department of Corrections yesterday said no one could comment on the details of the pilot project. A staff member who declined to provide a name did confirm, however that “there is a committee working on it”.

“It is an absolutely reckless and irresponsible idea,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch Asia. “Thailand has no capacity to systematically inspect these fishing boats or stop the abuses.”

The US State Department relegated Thailand to the lowest possible ranking on its human trafficking watch list earlier this year, largely attributing the downgrade to brutal and violent conditions in the fishing industry including deaths, beatings, 20-hour work days, no pay and insufficient provisions of food or medical care.

MOST VIEWED

  • Proof giants walked among us humans?

    For years a debate has waged about whether certain bas relief carvings at the 12th-century To Prohm Temple, one of the most popular attractions at the Angkor Wat Temple Complex in Siem Reap province, depicted dinosaurs or some rather less exotic and more contemporary animal,

  • Japan bank buys major stake in ANZ Royal Bank

    Japan's largest bank acquired more than half of ANZ’s shares in Cambodia on Thursday, according to a statement from Kith Meng’s Royal Group. Japan's JTrust Bank, announced that they had acquired a 55% of stake in ANZ Royal Bank. According to a Royal Group

  • Long way to go before Cambodia gets a ‘smart city’

    Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Battambang will struggle to attain smart city status without adopting far reaching master plans, according to officials tasked with implementing the program. The brainchild of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), the smart city program seeks to link up

  • China-Cambodia tourism forum held

    The Cambodian tourism sector must be prepared to welcome a growing number of Chinese tourists, as they lead the globe in the number of outbound travellers and were responsible for the most visitors to the Kingdom last year, the country’s tourism minister said on