A Survivor’s Story
Samart Senasuk In 2009, lost his job as a security guard in Bangkok as the financial crisis swept the world. He was preparing to return to his hometown, in Isaan, an impoverished region in the northeast of Thailand. A friendly man invited him for a drink, to talk about a job on a fishing vessel.
He woke after a few drinks and found he was on a boat off Singapore. How he got there remains a mystery. Soon he would be in Indonesian waters where he remained trapped for seven years.
A media report ended Samart’s nightmare. He was rescued Since he has devoted his energies to helping others who have suffered at the hands of slavery.
“Being on a fishing boat is like having your life hang by a thread,” says Samart. For Samart, the physical abuse began as soon as he came around. “I shouted loudly when I realised I had been drugged and taken to the boat. And I was beaten,” he recalls.
His day on the trawler typically began at 7am, he says, when he would begin unfolding nets. The work was exhausting but they were not allowed to stop. They paused only to wolf down the two or three meals – depending on the work load.
The crew slept on the deck floor, about 10 to a small cabin. When they finished fishing, they would prepare the nets for the following day. By the time they got to sleep it could be 3am or 4am; only a few hours before the start of the next exhausting shift.
In March 2015, news agency Associated Press (AP)1 found that fishermen were being held in captivity on remote Benjina in Indonesia. Indonesian government officials had no choice but to visit Benjina and offered to send the men home.
“At first the fishermen filtered in by slowly in pairs, hearing whispers of a possible rescue”. Then, as the news rippled around the island, hundreds of weathered former and current slaves with long, greasy hair and tattoos streamed from their trawlers, down the hills, even out of the jungle, running towards what they had only dreamed of for years: freedom.”
Instead of going home, Samart joined the Labour Rights Promotion Network (LPN) the organisation that had saved him. With LPN’s assistance, Samart, and five other former fishermen, founded the Thai and Migrant Fishers Union Group, which aims to help victims of slavery in the fishing industry obtain compensation and reintegrate into society.
“I want to be a volunteer because I have experienced the tough conditions on the boats,” he says.
Based on a story from Post Magazine Long Reads July 2017 by Laura Villadiego
Adapted by Fuzz Kitto, firstname.lastname@example.org Co-Director STOP THE TRAFFIK Australia.
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