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IJM Cambodia’s first cross-border labor trafficking conviction brings down major trafficking ring

SIEM REAP, Cambodia – Three key players in a human trafficking ring were convicted by a Siem Reap court last month for trafficking six Cambodians into the Thai fishing industry. This is the first cross-border labor trafficking case with IJM’s support to result in conviction in Cambodia.

The traffickers were each sentenced to up to nine years of imprisonment. The six survivors were awarded compensation ranging from two million to twenty-five million riel (approximately $6,135).

In June 2015, the Cambodian Government repatriated 230 Cambodian men, many of whom were severely exploited on Thai fishing vessels. The men were sold to ship captains in Thai ports and trapped on the ships for years – in some cases, more than a decade.

Initially, the men were unwilling to talk to the police, cases were dropped, and most of the men re-migrated. However, IJM and Cambodian anti-trafficking police persevered together in a second interview process; the survivors began to trust the team, and a case against this brutal trafficking ring emerged.

The accounts revealed a common thread: The same three traffickers had actively recruited these men from poor villages and arranged everything from papers to transport. With the promise of making decent money across the border in Thailand, the victims had climbed into the back of trucks and passed from person to person efficiently, money changing hands.

Once on the boat, victims were not allowed to leave. They worked 22-hour days enduring injury, illness, violence, misery, and hopelessness. The same traffickers who recruited, transported and sold the men into slavery also ensured they remained trapped in brutal exploitation on the Thai fishing vessels under horrendous conditions and withheld the men’s pay for their own profit. The traffickers had been operating for more than seven years.

The bravery of the six survivors who testified and the perseverance of Cambodia’s law enforcement leaders made this significant conviction a reality.

“These three traffickers are responsible for causing great pain and suffering for many young Cambodians,” said Peter Williams, Field Office Director of IJM Cambodia. “Such decisive action from Cambodia’s Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Police and Cambodia’s courts sends a strong warning to all who would seek to profit from trafficking in persons.”

Through a generous grant from the USAID Counter Trafficking-in-Persons program managed by Winrock International, IJM is leveraging existing relationships with Cambodian law enforcement and justice system officials to combat cross-border trafficking and domestic labor trafficking, which make convictions such as these possible.

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