“One day I overheard my colleagues talking on the lower bunks discussing how they would kill me. It was then that I decided to jump off the boat”

Vun Voeun

Vun Voeun’s story 

“I didn’t know what to do, if I had stayed on the boat I would definitely have been killed, so I decided to jump into the sea”. These are the words of Vun Voeun, 36 years old Cambodian fisherman when explaining how he escaped death threats on a Thai-owned fishing boat.

Before being saved by a military ship from Brunei, which put him in contact with the Cambodian embassy in Singapore, Vun had been at sea for a day and a half, clinging only to a water tank.

As with  many of his fellow countrymen Vun found himself in debt bondage after deciding to migrate to Thailand through a broker in 2016 due to the extreme poverty and lack of job opportunities in his birthplace Khvaw, a rural commune in the Siem Reap province, Cambodia.

Debt bondage is the most common form of modern slavery. It occurs when a person offers his/her work for free, or have deductions made from their salary, to repay a debt, as often happens to many migrants when they reach their destination country. The duration and the nature of the job are decided by the creditor (broker/employer), who can change them at will. In Vun’s case, the broker that helped him migrate has received 25000 baht (circa 820 USD) from the Thai employer who then hired him in Malaysia.

“I had worked for nine months on a fishing boat in Malaysia and once I extinguished my debt with the Thai employer, I started making some money and decided to send some to my mother in Cambodia through a broker. However, of the 20000 baht sent for Khmer New Year, my mom only received half of it”, said Vun. The death threats by the broker and other members of the crew started upon his request to get back the money given to the broker. Vun’s life and work conditions on board then became even harder than before, he describes how: “At sea work was very tough. I fixed fishing nets, I collected the catch and arranged it in the cold rooms. I worked every day and night in any weather condition. I slept very little and food was not sufficient”.

“One day, while I was resting in the upper bunkbed, I overheard my colleagues talking on the lower bunks discussing how they would kill me. It was then that I decided to jump off the boat”, continued Vun, describing his desperate try to escape from enslavement and life-threatening situation.

Once back in Cambodia, Vun decided to sue his traffickers; his employer and his broker are still being identified.

Today Vun is among the Social Ambassadors of the MIG-RIGHT project, which is managed by WeWorld-GVC in partnership with Legal Support for Children and Women (LSCW) in Cambodia and Labour Rights Promotion Network Foundation (LPN) in Thailand. The project supports and advocates for Cambodian migrants’ rights in Thailand, preventing human trafficking and labour exploitation.

Vun shares his experience during the Self Help Groups, which occur each month in the villages where the migration rate is highest. Aware of the many difficulties and the risks Cambodian migrants are exposed to, Vun provides members of the community with the correct information and useful advice to avoid becoming victims of trafficking or exploitation, while at the same time manages to minimise his painful experience.

As it happened to Vun, another 40.3 milion people – as reported by the International Labour Organization (ILO) – are still in slavery-like conditions all around the world, generating every year a revenue equal to 150 billion USD. Today, 18 October, is the European Union Anti-Trafficking Day, and we would like to take this occasion to reiterate our and the European Union’s commitment to ending any and all forms of exploitation and modern slavery, both within and beyond its borders. Together with our local partners and with the financial support of the European Union Delegation to Cambodia and Thailand, we hope that projects such as MIG-RIGHT will prevent others from suffering similar experiences to Vun’s.

Read more about the situation of fishermen in Thailand