550 Slaves Rescued in Indonesia: Time to Get Serious About Fighting Human Trafficking in Asia


Luigi Caterino, Flickr

By Olivia Enos

An estimated 550 slaves were rescued from the remote Indonesian island Benjina late last week. The International Organization for Migration believes there are at least 4,000 men that have not yet been rescued and may be victims of human trafficking. Events in Benjina are a reminder that the fight against human trafficking in Asia is far from over.

Rescue operations were prompted by an Associated Press investigation that detailed the existence of slavery on fishing trawlers in Indonesia. In some cases, individuals from Burma, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand were tricked or even kidnapped to work on allegedly Thai-owned fishing boats destined for Benjina. Some victims were lured with the promise of gainful employment, only to be shocked at the abysmal conditions on the boats. Those rescued reported working 20-hour to 22-hour shifts, being paid little to nothing, and receiving little food. Some witnessed fellow workers being tortured, maimed, and even killed at sea.

Now that these victims have been rescued, attention has turned to the governments of Indonesia and Thailand. In the State Department’s 2014Trafficking in Persons Report, Indonesia was a Tier 2 country, while Thailand received the lowest designation, Tier 3. The report noted the severity of human trafficking in the fishing industry in Thailand and emphasized the need to work toward implementing tougher policies to address the abuses. The incident in Benjina is a reminder that both countries should shore up their anti-trafficking efforts.

At the heart of the situation in Benjina is a lack of access to justice for victims of trafficking. A recent Heritage Foundation report on human trafficking in Asia noted that the U.S. should up the ante on human trafficking and invest in specialized law enforcement and judicial training programs in Asia:

Combating human trafficking will require greater effort to ensure that individuals in Asia have access to fair and honest legal and judicial protection…. [T]he key to stopping trafficking is effective law enforcement and a judicial system free from corruption. While passing appropriate legislation is important, enforcing the law is even more critical. Corruption within police ranks and inadequate legal institutions are the primary obstacles to breaking up human trafficking networks.

There is much to be done to combat trafficking in persons in Asia—the situation in Benjina is a reminder of the urgency of the matter. The Heritage Foundation has a forthcoming follow-up report with short, actionable items for Asia to improve its anti-trafficking practices.

This article originally appeared on The Daily Signal April 23, 2015. (http://dailysignal.com/2015/04/23/550-slaves-rescued-in-indonesia-time-to-get-serious-about-fighting-human-trafficking-in-asia/)