Trafficking for Fishing

NEXUS has conducted a number of research studies on human trafficking in the fishing industry. In addition, trafficked fishers have comprised a significant proportion of respondents in NEXUS Institute’s regional study on the reintegration of trafficking victims in the Greater Mekong Sub-region and longitudinal study with Indonesian trafficking victims.

Identified origin and destination countries for trafficked fishers (excluding internal trafficking or for fishing on lakes and rivers). Source: NEXUS research and U.S. Trafficking in Persons Report.

Research Studies

At Home: Family Reintegration of Trafficked Indonesian Men (2018)

Large numbers of Indonesian men migrate each year for work in construction, in factories and in agriculture, on plantations and on fishing boats. Many of them end up exploited in ways that constitute human trafficking, suffering violence, deprivation, restricted freedom and severe exploitation as well as long periods of separation from their families. This article explores the challenges faced by forty-nine Indonesian men, including 32 men trafficked for fishing, reintegrating into their families and communities after having been trafficked. While many problems with the family were caused by economics, tensions also resulted from long separations, fractured relationships, and frustration and blame over ‘failed’ migration and unfulfilled expectations. Tensions were sometimes exacerbated when men faced recrimination and blame in their communities after return. Understanding the nature of and reasons for the problems that men faced after trafficking is vital in considering how trafficked men and their families can be supported to recover and reintegrate after trafficking.


Seeing the Unseen: Barriers and Opportunities in the Identification of Trafficking Victims in Indonesia (2018)

Available in Bahasa Indonesian

In many countries in the world, including in Indonesia, identification of trafficking victims remains one of the more challenging and vexing aspects of anti-trafficking efforts. Many trafficking victims are never officially identified or recognized as victims of human trafficking and, as such, essentially “fall through the cracks” of the anti-trafficking response. And yet the identification of trafficked persons is a critical, indeed necessary, step to combat human trafficking. Victims must first be identified before they can be offered assistance and protection. Identification is also essential for the criminal process to be triggered and to ensure trafficking victims’ access to justice. Understanding who is (and is not) identified as trafficked (and why this happens) is critical for improving the identification of Indonesian trafficking victims and, by extension, their access to protection and justice. As such, this paper considers patterns of both successful and unsuccessful identification of Indonesian trafficking victims who have been trafficked for various forms of labor, including men trafficked for fishing, as well as the different issues that inform whether or not Indonesian trafficking victims are formally identified as trafficking victims. These include: the nature of trafficking, with victims isolated, controlled and “out of sight”; institutional challenges in the identification response; and the decisions and behaviors of trafficking victims themselves.


Moving On. Family and Community Reintegration Among Indonesian Trafficking Victims (2017)

Available as a compressed pdf for mobile or slower Internet connection

Available in Bahasa Indonesian

Summary Report (available in Bahasa Indonesian)

For many trafficking victims, exit or escape from trafficking is only the beginning of another set of challenges that they face as they seek to recover and reintegrate after a trafficking experience. Not only do they need to come to terms with their exploitation, but they must also navigate the often-complex relationships with family and community after trafficking. Indeed, reintegration takes place within a wide social field – involving different family members and varying community environments. Men and women also experience reintegration differently, as do victims of different forms of exploitation, including those trafficked for fishing. It is, therefore, important to disentangle the actions and reactions of different family and community members, each of whom may play a different role in either supporting or undermining a victim’s reintegration. This paper explores the challenges faced by trafficked persons as they seek to reintegrate into their families and communities. The paper equally considers settings in which reintegration success is supported and galvanized by family and community members, to identify what can be done to enhance the reintegration outcomes of all Indonesian trafficking victims.


Our Lives. Vulnerability and Resilience Among Indonesian Trafficking Victims (2017)

Available as a compressed pdf for mobile or slower Internet connection

Available in Bahasa Indonesian

Summary Report (available in Bahasa Indonesian) 

When trafficked persons escape their exploitation, it is often only the beginning of a complex and taxing process of recovery and reintegration. Trafficked persons must recover from the very serious and debilitating effects of trafficking exploitation. They often have a range of short- and long-term assistance needs, which are directly related to and often caused by their trafficking experiences, including issues related to housing and accommodation, physical and mental health, their economic situations, education and training, safety and security, legal status, legal issues and needs within the family. In addition, human trafficking is often a function of broader, structural inequality and individual vulnerability. This means that trafficked persons must also navigate and tackle underlying and pre-existing vulnerabilities that contributed to being trafficked and which also have the potential to undermine reintegration. This study presents the experiences of 108 Indonesian trafficking victims, including 32 men trafficked for fishing. The research documents trafficking victims’ vulnerabilities and resiliencies at different stages of their lives – before trafficking, as a consequence of trafficking exploitation and over the course of their recovery and reintegration. The paper also explores how vulnerability and resilience are influenced by external factors like the family and community setting into which trafficked persons seek to reintegrate and how vulnerability and resilience may fluctuate and change over time.


Supporting the reintegration of trafficked persons. A guidebook for the Greater Mekong Sub-Region (2017) 

Available in Khmer, Laotian, Vietnamese, and Thai

This guidebook is based on findings from the ground-breaking study: After trafficking: Experiences and challenges in the (re)integration of trafficked persons in the Greater Mekong Sub-region, which is based on interviews with 252 trafficking victims in the GMS about their experiences of reintegration, including 37 men trafficked for fishing. The guidebook highlights positive examples and successes in the reintegration of trafficked persons in different settings and countries throughout the region. It also presents challenges faced by trafficked persons as they sought to move on from their exploitation, including what they suggested could be done in the future to better support the recovery and reintegration of trafficked persons. As critically, the guidebook offers a set of checklists which point to ways forward to improve work in the field of reintegration programming and policy. The guidebook is a practical resource for service providers in the GMS region (and further afield), to assist in improving reintegration programs and policies for trafficking victims, including trafficked fishers. It may also be useful for donors and policymakers in terms of identifying and funding good practice in the field of reintegration of trafficking victims.


Going Home. Challenges in the Reintegration of Trafficking Victims in Indonesia (2016)

Available as a compressed pdf for mobile or slower Internet connection

Available in Bahasa Indonesian

Summary Report

Executive Summary (available in Bahasa Indonesian)

Overall, there exists a range of laws, policies and programs currently in place in Indonesia aimed at supporting the reintegration of trafficked persons, including trafficked fishers. These include efforts and initiatives by various government ministries and departments (at the national, provincial and district levels), NGOs and IOs. These initiatives and interventions afford often-critical support and services to many trafficked persons toward their recovery and reintegration after trafficking exploitation. Nonetheless, within Indonesia, many trafficking victims do not receive the assistance and support that they need to recover from their trafficking experiences and reintegrate into their families and communities. And those that do receive assistance do not always receive assistance that is suited to their needs or adequately supports their efforts to reintegrate. This is because there are some critical challenges in the current response in Indonesia, including that many trafficked persons are unidentified; reintegration is not clearly defined or understood; most assistance is “one-off” support; assistance programs are only short-term; victims face barriers in accessing available services; lack of information about reintegration assistance; lack of reintegration assistance to trafficked men, particularly men trafficked for fishing; lack of case management and tailored reintegration support; and an uneven provision of assistance due to decentralization and the geographic distribution of services. This research is based on in-depth research with 108 trafficking victims, including 32 men and boys who were trafficked into the fishing industry. It is intended as a starting point in better understanding how reintegration of trafficked persons currently takes place in Indonesia, including what is working well and what constitute constraints and obstacles for trafficked persons to the reintegration process.


Screen Shot 2015-02-15 at 2.11.13 PMIn African waters. The trafficking of Cambodian fishers in South Africa (2014)


Executive Summary (available in Khmer)

This study discusses the trafficking of men in the fishing industry. It focuses on Cambodian men severely exploited in South African waters. Through extensive interviews, NEXUS reveals the stories of how the men were recruited and transported as well as their trafficking experiences at sea. The study also discusses how these trafficked fishers were (or, more commonly, were not) identified as trafficking victims and what assistance they did (or did not) receive when they escaped and returned home to Cambodia and sought to reintegrate into their families and communities.


Global Human TraffickingAt sea. The trafficking of seafarers and fishers from Ukraine. In Global human trafficking. Critical issues and contexts (2014)

This book chapter explores the issue of trafficking at sea. In this chapter, NEXUS shares the experiences of forty-six trafficked Ukrainian seafarers and fishers. It describes how Ukrainian men were recruited, transported and severely exploited, as well as their experiences of escape from trafficking and their subsequent reintegration into their families and societies. In considering limitations in the identification of and assistance to the trafficked Ukrainian seafarers/fishers, the chapter outlines key challenges in the protection of trafficked seafarers and fishers and intervention needs and opportunities in combating trafficking at sea. While highlighting the specific and unique aspects of the Ukrainian experience, the chapter will also be of interest to those considering forced labor on board seagoing vessels more generally that is occurring around the world.


Screen Shot 2015-02-15 at 4.27.59 PMTrapped at Sea. Using the Legal and Regulatory Framework to Prevent and Combat the Trafficking of Seafarers and Fishers (2013)

In this article, NEXUS frames what constitutes trafficking at sea, both in the commercial fishing sector and in the merchant fleet and presents the legal and regulatory framework to combat trafficking at sea – namely, international anti-trafficking law, international maritime law and the international law of the sea. The article considers the “three P paradigm” of anti-trafficking (that is, prevention, protection and prosecution) and how improved policies, regulation, legislation and enforcement have the potential to contribute to an improved situation for seafarers and fishers—to both prevent and combat trafficking in commercial fishing and the merchant fleet.


After TraffickingAfter trafficking. Experiences and challenges in the (re)integration of trafficked persons in the GMS (2013)

Summary Report (available in BurmeseChineseKhmerLaotianVietnamese and Thai)

Reintegration is a process that involves many steps after the individual’s exit from trafficking. Trafficked persons should be afforded the full range of rights and protections they are entitled to and which are guaranteed under law. While many trafficked persons interviewed for this study were assisted and supported in these ways; many others went unidentified and unassisted as trafficking victims, which meant not receiving support to aid in their recovery and sustainable reintegration. Still others received some forms of assistance but not the full range of services that they required (and were entitled to) to move on from trafficking experience and successfully reintegrate. Some trafficked persons chose to decline some or all of the support offered to them. This research study considers the experiences of 252 trafficking victims, including 37 men and boys trafficked for fishing. The research aims to understand the individual and diverse reintegration experiences of trafficked persons – what was positive, what was less successful and what might be done in the future to either replicate good practices or avoid problematic ones.


UntitledTrafficked at sea. The exploitation of Ukrainian seafarers and fishers (2012)


Trafficking for forced labor, including trafficking for labor in the merchant shipping and fishing industries, has been increasingly recognized as a major form of human trafficking. Reported cases signal that there are aspects of the commercial fishing and seafaring sectors which may lend themselves particularly to trafficking abuses. This paper explores and discusses the experiences of trafficked Ukrainian seafarers and fishers in order that anti-trafficking policies and programs can take into account their experiences and needs. While the stories of these trafficked Ukrainian seafarers and fishers highlight some unique experiences, many of the issues raised in this report have wider application to incidences of trafficking at sea around the world.


Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 9.33.18 PMTrafficking in Men, a Trend Less Considered: The Case of Belarus and Ukraine (2008)

Men are often overlooked in discussions of human trafficking and those who are targeted by trafficking enterprises. Reflecting this bias, trafficking in males has been under-considered in research. This despite noteworthy signals that many males, adult and minors, are subjected to trafficking exploitation. Often these severely exploited male victims, especially in the context of migration, are overlooked, with women and girls identified more commonly as victims of trafficking. This deficiency in identifying and assisting males who have been victims of trafficking exploitation needs to be addressed. “Trafficking in persons” must be understood and addressed as affecting all victims: women and men, adults and minors. In Belarus and Ukraine, male victims accounted for 28.3 per cent and 17.6 per cent of the IOM-assisted caseload respectively between 2004 and 2006. Through the lens of trafficking in males (primarily adult men) from Belarus and Ukraine, including 33 men trafficked into the fishing industry, this study considers male victims’ pre-trafficking life (namely their personal, family and socio-economic background), trafficking experience (from recruitment, through transportation and during exploitation) and post trafficking experience and needs. The report examines, on the one hand, what is known about this less-considered profile of trafficked persons and, on the other hand, what can be done to meet their needs, both as a means of assistance and protection. The study draws on primary data collected about 685 trafficked males assisted by IOM and its partners, through IOM’s Counter-Trafficking Module Database in Geneva as well as qualitative information from interviews with and case files of assisted men. The research findings should not be read as representative of the full scope of trafficking in either country; they are instead representative of trafficked males who have been identified and received assistance and not male trafficking victims generally.


Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 9.34.11 PMTrafficked Men as Unwilling Victims (2008)

Many victims of human trafficking are reluctant to self-identify. This research discusses how this can be especially true for men who have been victims of trafficking. And the failure to self-identify exacerbates the shortcomings in current institutionalized responses that are more likely to discover and identify trafficking cases involving females than males. Trafficking in human beings is most commonly associated with trafficking of women or children, especially, for sexual exploitation. Most studies and projects, following this bias, also focus primarily, if not exclusively, on trafficking in women and children. Far less common is a consideration of trafficking in males, particularly adult men. Studies on trafficking of men and targeted anti-trafficking interventions are few and far between. Nevertheless, there are signals in many countries and regions that male migrants are also exploited and violated in ways that constitute human trafficking, including in the fishing industry. This reality raises serious questions about the reason for a focus on women (and children) as well as the implications for practitioners, policymakers and, most importantly, trafficked men exploited in a range of labor sectors.


Conference Papers, Presentations and Other Resources


Trafficking at Sea. The Exploitation of South-East Asian Fishers (2016) Presentation at the SEAFDEC First Regional Technical Consultation on Labor Aspects within the Fishing Industry in the ASEAN Region. Bangkok, Thailand, February 25-27, 2016.



 Q&A with NEXUS on Forced Labor in the Fishing Industry (2015) Question and Answer session with the International Labour Organization about possible remedies to labor exploitation in the fishing industry. Oslo, Norway, November 25-26, 2015.



Trafficking at Sea. The Exploitation of Fishers (2015) Presentation at International Symposium on FishCRIME. Cape Town, South Africa, October 12-13, 2015.