Hundreds of foreign fishermen yesterday rushed at the chance to be rescued from an isolated Indonesian island where a report revealed slavery runs rampant. Indonesian officials investigating abuses offered to take them out of concern for the men’s safety.
The men, from countries including Myanmar and Cambodia, began getting the news as a downpour started, and some ran through the rain. They sprinted back to their boats, jumping over the rails and throwing themselves through windows. They stuffed their meager belongings into plastic bags and rushed back to the dock, not wanting to be left behind.
A small boat went from trawler to trawler picking up men who wanted to go and was soon loaded with about 30 men.
Asep Burhundun, director-general of Indonesia’s Marine Resources and Fisheries Surveillance, initially told about 20 Burmese men that he would move them from the village of Benjina to neighboring Tual Island for their safety following interviews with officials yesterday. However, as news spread that men were getting to leave the island, dozens of others started filing in from all over and sitting on the floor.
When Burhundun was asked if others hiding in the jungle could come as well, he said: “They can all come. We don’t want to leave a single person behind.”
Fishermen who are Thai nationals are to remain on the island. Most of the boat captains are from Thailand.
The Indonesian delegation began interviewing men on boats and assessing the situation on the island this week, and have heard of the same abuses fishermen told reporters about in a story published last week.
They described being abused at sea, including being kicked and whipped with stingray tails and given Taser-like electric shocks.
Some said they fell ill and were not given medicine; others said they had been promised jobs in Thailand and then were taken to Indonesia where they were made to work long hours with little or no pay.
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