Touch was sold to the captain of a fishing boat. He has seen blood on the deck. He escaped, but was caught. “They gave me two options: go back to the boat or go to jail. I chose the sea.”
Mr. Touch Thom, Social Ambassador
Touch is a human trafficking survivor. He is a sea survivor. Only by looking in his eyes, you can tell that the 43-year-old man went through a traumatic experience. Touch Thom was exploited for six long years on a fishing boat in Thailand and Malaysia. He worked relentlessly, days and nights, in slavery-like conditions and witnessed acts of cruelty towards other fishermen with no possibility to intervene or to run away. When he was too weak, he was threatened and forced to take drugs to keep working. He finally managed to escape and eventually he joined MIGRA ACTION project, became a Social Ambassador to share his story with other Cambodians willing to go to Thailand.
Touch often buries his head in his callous hands when he shares his terrifying story, but when he is around his family, a bright smile lights up his face. His eyes fill up with hope. He is grateful to be alive.
The horrific tale of Mr. Thom stared when a man in his village offered him a construction worker position in Thailand. Touch was not earning enough money from his rice field. Lured by a promise of a well-paid job, which would help him sustain his wife and their newborn child, Touch accepted the proposal. Once in Thailand he realised that no work at a construction site was awaiting him: the broker had sold him to the captain of a fishing boat.
This was however, just the beginning of his nightmare. For one month, Touch worked relentlessly, days and nights, in slavery-like conditions and witnessed acts of cruelty towards other fishermen with no possibility to run away. When the boat approached the Malaysian border Touch seized the opportunity: “I hid in the jungle for two days until I was too hungry and tired and then, I decided to come out to look for another job”.
He managed to find work in the port and after two months he saved enough money to buy a boat ticket to Thailand. However, his ordeal did not end there. Once disembarked, he took a taxi to the closest checkpoint on the Thai-Cambodian border. Ten minutes after he got into the car, he realized that two men on motorbikes were chasing him. The taxi driver soon pulled over and the two men opened the door and ordered Touch to follow them. He was taken to a house, given clean clothes and food and locked up in a room. His captors showed up two days after. “They gave me two options: go back to the boat or go to jail. I chose the sea.” He was sent to work on a new fishing boat the day after.
Touch soon understood that this second time would not be different: “There were fresh traces of blood on the deck. Some men had been killed the night before. The captain told me that if I refused to work, I would end up dead too”.
Together with 15 other Cambodians, he worked non-stop under the watch of two armed Thai men. When he was too weak, he was threatened and forced to take drugs to keep working. Luckily, also this time, he found a way to escape and go back home, to his family in Cambodia. He did not speak about what happened to him for years.
In 2015, Touch finally decided to share his terrifying story during one MIGRA ACTION Self-Help Group meetings in Siem Reap province. Since then, every month he participates in the meetings. “I feel so grateful to be alive. I want to help as many people as possible and provide them with information on how to migrate safely so we don’t hear sad stories ever again”.