Media reports this week exposed the existence of conditions of slavery on fishing boats working remote Indonesian waters.
IOM has been working closely for several years with Indonesian authorities and relevant embassies to rescue fishermen identified as victims of trafficking in Indonesia. Since 2012, IOM has assisted hundreds of victims of trafficking related to the fishing industry and helped them to return home to Myanmar, Cambodia and Thailand.
IOM is in discussion with Indonesian authorities to help locate an estimated 4,000 fishermen stranded on some of the country’s remotest islands. The majority of these have been abandoned by unscrupulous fishing-boat operators following a Government moratorium on the renewal of old licenses as well as issuance of new ones.
The expired and non-renewed licenses on ships already in the region are factors causing the vessels to dump their crews and abandon them on these islands. The moratorium is an attempt to limit or eliminate the presence of illegal foreign boats fishing Indonesia’s rich waters. The government estimates illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing (so-called IUU fishing) costs Indonesia up to USD 25 billion per year and is conducted in one of the poorest regions of the country.
An unknown number—which IOM believes is a large majority—of the men working in this manner are victims of trafficking, mainly from Myanmar. IOM, along with the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, is preparing for a visit to the fishing grounds, notably to the island of Benjina in Maluku province off the south coast of West Papua.
“We note the positive outcome of the moratorium on the IUU fishing which the government has put in place,” said Steve Hamilton, Deputy Chief of Mission, IOM Indonesia. “It does mean that a very large number of men have been stranded in less than ideal conditions. But for the first time in possibly several years their feet are touching dry land and there is a real possibility for them to go home, once we and the authorities can locate and process them.”
He added: “We also want to note the exposure this story has had in the media in recent days which has turned the spotlight onto modern-day slavery. These, sadly, are not the only people working as slaves and their stories must be reported.”
Thanks to the quick and effective action of the Indonesian National Police, some of the men have already been moved for their own protection, following an Associated Press investigation into working conditions on the boats. These men are now in a government shelter awaiting the issuance of travel documents.