Fishermen compensated for years of unpaid work

After a long fight, a handful of Myanmar fishermen yesterday received compensation for their work on fishing trawlers plying remote Indonesian waters.

Out of the 105 fishermen repatriated to Myanmar on September 6, 65 were sent reimbursements yesterday, according to the Myanmar embassy in Jakarta.

“We are discussing with the fishery companies to get compensation for the remainder as well,” said U San Myint Oo, the Myanmar ambassador to Indonesia.

Myanmar has repatriated more than 600 fishermen who were found marooned on islands in the far south of Indonesia after facing brutal, slave-like conditions mainly on Thai vessels fishing illegally.

On islands throughout Indonesia’s Maluku province, thousands of Myanmar migrant fishermen are believed to be standed after escaping their boats, or are being held captive there by their captive by their captains, according to the International Organisation for Migration. While the IOM classifies them as trafficking victims, and the returned migrants who have spoken to The Myanmar Times have testified to widespread abuse, forced labour, beatings, and death threats, Myanmar officials remain unconvinced.

According to the foreign affairs ministry, only 16 of the Myanmar fishermen who were found in late July have been trafficked.

U Khin Maung Hla, chief of the anti-human trafficking police unit, said it remains hard to determine whether the fishermen were trafficked or not because it is difficult to find the roots of their case and how they became involved in the industry.

Returned fishermen meanwhile were more focused on the meagre sums they received to compensate for years of unpaid labour. They said the sum fell far short of their promised salaries, and did not begin to make up for the abuse they endured.

Ko San Htay, 36, said he worked on one of the fishing boats for more than five years, but was given only US$4000 in reimbursement – a sum equal to about three years’ salary.

Ko Win Myint, another of the returned fishermen who also spent five years working on a trawler, said the embassy’s compensation was less than the amount he had been promised back when he was offered paid employment on the boat.

“The company agreed to pay the equivalent of 9000 baht [$250] per month as my compensated salary even they promised 12,000 baht [$330] per month. However, I haven’t gotten money for five years,” he told The Myanmar Times.

According to the embassy in Jakarta, more than 200 Myanmar fishermen are still awaiting repatriation from Ambon Island.

“The repatriation has been delayed because the verification process has not finished yet,” said ambassador U San Myint Oo.

Source: Myanmar Times

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