AMBON, Indonesia – Myo Aung took a fishing job that he thought would keep him close to home in southern Myanmar, but he ended up thousands of miles away with no chance of return for five years. The 25-year-old is among more than 2,000 fishermen rescued this year from forced labor under brutal conditions, mainly in remote Indonesian islands, following reporting by The Associated Press and subsequent investigation by Indonesian authorities. Last week he was on Ambon island, awaiting his return home.
This is his story, in his own words, translated from Burmese and with editing for organization and length.
As we were working under the rain and the sun, I got really sick. I went to the captain and asked for medicine. The captain said, "OK, but you have to keep working after taking the pills." ... I couldn't stand the fever and went to sleep without going to work. The captain beat me up and shouted at me, and I went back to work.
Who could stand working continuously without taking a rest? Sometimes we have to sew the nets and we work half-asleep. We had to drink coffee a lot to keep ourselves awake.
The captain tortured the workers and beat them up if someone was not doing things that he asked. ... He never wanted to pay the right amount of money. He would sometimes give us 2 million or 1 million rupiah ($138 or $69) after three or four months. ... Here in Indonesia, a million rupiah is nothing. We could buy nothing much with it. We would buy coffee and some clothes.
They are so reluctant to pay us money. Our lives were like slaves. They only think us as their servants. For years since I got to Indonesia, there was no way back home. It was like our lives were already over.