AMBON, Indonesia – Kyaw Zayar is among more than 2,000 fishermen rescued this year from forced labor under brutal conditions, mainly in remote Indonesian islands. The 30-year-old from Myawaddy, Myanmar, was forced to work on a fishing boat for nearly five years.
Last week he was among dozens in the fishing port of Ambon waiting to return to Myanmar. Enslaved fishermen were freed and allowed to return to their home countries as Indonesian officials, prompted by reporting by The Associated Press, investigated the industry.
This is his story, in his own words, translated from Burmese and with editing for organization and length.
I came here Aug. 10, 2010. First I was told that I would earn some money working on the fishing boat and that it was easy to go back home. But as I arrived in Indonesia, I didn't have a chance to go back. ... This is not only me; it happened to all other fishermen.
On the fishing boat, we had to work all the time. There was almost no time to rest. We never had time to sleep. If we tried, we were sworn at by the captain.
The minimum wage was supposed to be 9,000 baht ($250) a month, but now they want to pay us about 5,000 ($140). ... We had to work about 20 hours a day out of 24. ... We are demanding 9,000 baht a month and they don't want to pay us that.
I think everyone should know how these fish are caught. ... This is completely like modern slavery. If anyone had sympathy, they wouldn't eat the fish that we caught.