New NEXUS Research on the Experiences of Fishermen at Sea: In African Waters (December 2014)

December 2014 – The NEXUS Institute and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are pleased to announce the publication of a study on trafficking within the commercial fishing industry – In African waters. The trafficking of Cambodian fishers in South Africa, authored by Rebecca Surtees, Senior Researcher, NEXUS Institute. This study discusses the trafficking of Cambodian men for fishing out of South Africa and/or in South African waters – how the men were recruited and transported as well as their trafficking experiences at sea. The men we interviewed for this research migrated for work in the fishing industry through a legally registered recruitment agency in Cambodia, but ended up trafficked and exploited on fishing vessels off the coastline of South Africa. The high numbers of fishers trafficked through just one recruitment company in Cambodia raise serious concerns of widespread trafficking and exploitation of fishers from the country and within the sector more broadly. Our research highlights the lack of protections that legal recruitment and deployment may offer in some settings. This study also discusses how these trafficked fishers were (and more commonly were not) identified as trafficking victims in South Africa 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.

Trafficking within the commercial fishing industry in Southeast Asia has gained increased attention and recognition in recent years, with researchers, practitioners, policy makers and media focused on stories of men from Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia and Indonesia exploited on fishing vessels in the waters off of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. Accounts also exist, however, of men from Southeast Asia ending up on vessels much further from home and through formal migration channels. This study is intended to give voice to trafficked Cambodian fishers and, in so doing, to develop an understanding of what happened to them when they legally migrated to work abroad. There are aspects of their experiences and the formal, legal recruitment context through which they were trafficked that may reveal unique vulnerabilities, particularly the lack of protections that legal recruitment and deployment may offer in some settings. This study focuses on what can be learned from these experiences in order to inform anti-trafficking policies and programs and to improve responses and interventions for fishers who end up trafficked at sea.

This study is part of a research cooperation between the NEXUS Institute and IOM – the Human Trafficking Thematic Research Series. The overall objective is to augment and enhance the current knowledge base on human trafficking. This publication was generously funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (J/TIP). We are very grateful to all of the individuals, organizations and institutions who participated in this research. We are particularly grateful to the trafficked persons who shared their very difficult experiences and the service providers who assisted in contacting them.