By Ainur Rohmah
TUBAN, Indonesia (AA) - Indonesia has repatriated 27 Cambodian “victims of human trafficking” who were employed on board vessels accused of fishing illegally in the archipelago’s waters off Borneo island.
Malfa Asdi, chief of West Kalimantan province’s immigration office, was quoted by kompas.com as saying Tuesday, “those deported are the crew and they were victims [of human trafficking]."
The Cambodians were found on three Malaysian-flagged vessels caught operating illegally in April, but were released from custody as Indonesia’s government only tries boat captains as suspects in unauthorized fishing cases.
Under Indonesia’s strict policy against illegal fishing, the government sinks boats found guilty of violations and has repatriated hundreds of crew -- mostly from Myanmar and Cambodia -- forced to work in “slave-like” conditions over the past year.
The head of immigration detention in West Kalimantan’s provincial capital Pontianak said that Monday’s deportation proceedings were conducted with the escort of six officers.
"They were sent [from Pontianak] first to Jakarta because there they were welcomed by the Embassy of Cambodia, then they were immediately sent to their home country," national news agency Antara quoted Suganda, who like many Indonesians uses one name, as saying.
According to data from the maritime affairs and fisheries ministry, Indonesia has sunk 176 vessels -- most of them foreign vessels -- as of June, and plans to bomb at least 13 more in the near future.
Minister Susi Pudjiastuti announced in December that the government had also begun implementing new regulations under which all fishing companies operating in the archipelago must receive certification from the ministry attesting to their fulfillment of conditions protecting the human rights of workers.
The minister underlined that the regulation had to be enforced after "shocking" discoveries that some firms in the sector engaged in human trafficking and forced labor, particularly in remote parts of the Maluku Islands such as in Benjina.
Last month, Pudjiastuti called for illegal fishing to be considered a form of transnational organized crime, telling an international convention in Vienna that violations in the sector oftentimes involved other transnational crimes such as money laundering, bribery, drug smuggling, human trafficking, tax crimes and smuggling of endangered species.