NAKORN SI THAMMARAT, THAILAND - Seven suspects, including a local government official, were arrested this week on accusations of trafficking and exploiting five Burmese fishermen. The fishermen were rescued by Thailand’s Department of Special Investigation (DSI) with assistance from IJM in March 2020, including one victim who was rescued at sea. IJM Thailand has been involved with this case from the beginning and has worked closely with DSI to support the case.
According to police, the suspects are accused of trafficking five Myanmar nationals to work on a fishing boat, trapping them into debt bondage with a payment that was later reframed as a loan.
Amidst COVID-19 and the difficulties resulting from the lockdown and travel restrictions, investigations stretched over many months before DSI was able to secure warrants and initiate this successful arrest operation.
This collaboration between DSI and IJM Thailand once again marked a step towards justice and rights for those who most desperately need protection—especially as some of the most vulnerable people, including migrant workers like these victims, experience increased vulnerability to crimes like trafficking and forced labour due to the pandemic.
“DSI has fully carried out the investigation without prejudice and is fully committed to bringing all offenders to punishment according to the law,” said DSI Deputy Director-General Supat Thamthanarug. “DSI would like to express its thanks to IJM who initiated the opening of this case by investigating until obtaining in-depth information and further submitting the case to DSI…We hope to have close cooperation like this case in the future.”
The arrest is also significant as it demonstrates that not only low-level criminals will be held accountable for this crime, but also those who may believe that their position of power allows them to exploit with impunity.
“Today’s arrests send an important message locally and globally that Thailand will not tolerate human trafficking and forced labour in Thai supply chains, especially within the Thai fishing industry,” said IJM Thailand director Andrew Wasuwongse.
“Because of the relentless work of the Department of Special Investigation (DSI), seven suspected criminals, including a fishing vessel owner who is a well-known local government official, can no longer abuse and exploit these workers with impunity. The successful arrests send an important message to local employers to get out of the business of exploiting migrant labourers for profit or face the risk of going to jail.”
IJM Thailand supports the Thai government in rescuing and protecting victims of human trafficking and forced labour with efforts to restore victims, hold perpetrators accountable and strengthen the justice system. All five Burmese survivors and their family members have been safely housed by government partners in the months since their rescue.