Hundreds of Burmese fishermen are in the process of being rescued from indefinite captivity on an isolated island in Indonesia after their situation was brought to light by a yearlong investigation by The Associated Press.
The initial probe found that hundreds of men from Myanmar, also known as Burma, and other nearby regions were stranded on the island village Benjina, the base of operations for a massive illegal fishing operation where captives worked 20- to 22-hour days for little or no pay.
Many were fishermen who had been promised jobs in Thailand, but were instead sent to the island to work for Thai boat captains who were responsible for keeping the men under control. Their daily catch was then sent to Thailand, where it was delivered to global markets, including several major U.S. supermarkets and retailers.
The fishermen reported mistreatment, saying, for example, that they were whipped with stingray tails and received electric shocks as punishment. During the investigation, eight fishermen were found locked in a “company cage,” the AP reports.
Some 300 men are currently in the process of returning home, mostly to Myanmar, from Benjina, with the help of the Indonesian government. Next week, Burmese officials will visit the islands to look for more men and help them get home. According to the International Organization for Migration, thousands more men are estimated to held under similar conditions on islands surrounding Benjina.
Thus far, the Thai government has countered allegations from the AP, and described the fishing boats as having all Thai crews working under fair conditions.