A re-focus on trafficking in the wake of the current humanitarian crisis at sea

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    Post by: Erin Gregg, intern at UN-ACT’s Regional Management Office. You can contact her at erin.gregg@undp.org.

    This last month has seen extensive media coverage focused on the region, after the discovery of mass graves in Southern Thailand and a humanitarian crisis unfolding at sea with overcrowded boats of refugees and economic migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh left stranded between Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

    In the flurry of media articles that followed, the terms ‘smuggling’ and ‘trafficking’ were often used interchangeably, but whilst the tragedy deserves all attention and needs to be addressed urgently, it may not primarily be one of human trafficking.

    In the meantime, recently revealed cases of trafficking in persons remain unresolved, such as those of fishermen found in conditions of forced labor in Indonesia. Reports of Thai, Burmese and Cambodian fishermen rescued from Ambon Island after escaping fishing boats was followed closely by the publication of an Associated Press investigative report about victims of trafficking held in appalling conditions in Benjina. The latter case made international headlines; official delegations were sent to identify victims and the process of repatriation commenced.

    However, the IOM estimated that an additional 4000 fishermen, many in conditions of human trafficking, remained stranded, scattered across islands in Indonesia, after being abandoned by boat captains following an Indonesian government crackdown on foreign fishing vessels. Since then, some additional rescue efforts have been made albeit at a small scale, and the challenges in dealing with complex, cross-border trafficking cases have come to light, such as lengthy victim identification and repatriation processes.

    Without much attention, the Benjina story has also continued to develop – 3 Myanmar nationals who were victims in the case disappeared from their temporary accommodation in Indonesia whilst under supervision of immigration authorities. In another worrisome development, a key witness in the same case was found dead in a hotel room in Jakarta. It was understood that he knew important members of the fishery business allegedly behind the trafficking rings and was cooperating with investigative authorities. A number of arrests have been made and the case continues to unfold.

    UN-ACT will continue to monitor these and other cases of human trafficking, and press for cooperative, regional efforts to counter such patterns in Southeast Asia through the COMMIT framework and beyond.

    • This topic was modified 5 years, 9 months ago by UN-ACT.
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