Lek* was born into an impoverished family in Thailand. He was never registered at birth, leaving him without identity documentation and few employment opportunities. Like many young Thai men trying to provide for their families, Lek sought out work in the fishing industry. But he quickly fell into the hands of traffickers.
“I was drunk and they took me to the boat,” he recalls. “I told them I wanted to leave but they didn’t let me. They hit me and forced me to board. There were so many men.”
For seven months Lek was trapped in slavery on the boat, until one day it docked at a port in Indonesia. He and a few other men got off to go into town, but when they returned the captain was furious. “He beat us and stabbed me,” Lek recalled.
Badly hurt, the captain left Lek on the Indonesian island, where he was stranded for the next eight years. “I was stuck on land carrying rocks in exchange for food,” said Lek. His family assumed he was dead.
After eight years on the island, trapped in abject poverty with no documentation or ability to contact his family, Lek was discovered by our local partner. They worked with him to gather information about his family and hometown, and finally tracked down his parents. Our partner then coordinated with the local Office of the Interior and the Thai Consulate to obtain paperwork for Lek’s repatriation.
A few months later, Lek returned home, along with dozens of other men who’d been trapped in similar situations of forced labour. Lek’s mother and sister met him at the airport in Bangkok, overwhelmed and weeping in relief. “Let’s go home… let’s go home,” his mother whispered. “Don’t you go anywhere again.”
Lek is now safe with his family in Thailand. Our local partner and several former crewmen are helping Lek and his parents to build a small house, and Lek is seeking new means of employment close to home.
*Name changed to protect the identity of the victim
Photo Credit: Brent Lewin/Freedom Fund