JAKARTA, Indonesia – The number of enslaved fisherman found on a remote Indonesian island has now reached nearly 550, after a fact-finding team returned for a single day to make sure no one had been left behind in a dramatic rescue nearly a week ago.
Many of the 210 found Thursday were Burmese and wanted to leave, but there were a few holdouts, men who claimed they were owed years of back pay from their bosses, said Steve Hamilton, deputy chief of mission at the International Organization for Migration in Jakarta.
An in-depth investigation by The Associated Press published last month led to the discovery of massive rights abuses in the island village of Benjina and surrounding waters. Many of the men said they were tricked or even kidnapped before being put on boats in Thailand and taken to Indonesia. They were forced to work almost non-stop under horrendous conditions, some brutally beaten by their Thai captains when they were sick or caught resting.
Last week, authorities rescued 330 migrants from Benjina, bringing them to the island of Tual, where they are now being sheltered by the Indonesian government. Those found Thursday remain in Benjina.
It's unclear who will pay for the mass repatriation.
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi told reporters Thursday in her country's capital, Naypyitaw, it was up to governments "to protect the rights of the citizens and to bring them back out of bondage."
"That is the most obvious and very simple solution and unavoidable duty of any responsible government," she told reporters.
While most fisherman found in Benjina were Burmese, there also were scores of Cambodians. The toll of 550 did not include men — many of whom also were enslaved — from poor parts of Thailand.
Associated Press reporter Aye Aye Win contributed to this report from Naypyitaw, Myanmar.