New Film Reveals Murders Of Burmese Fishers
“Abandoned, not forgotten” The plight of Burma’s undocumented migrant fishers
A special report for the ITF By David Browne
WARNING: THIS REPORT CONTAINS FOOTAGE THAT SOME VIEWERS MAY FIND DISTRESSING
PICTURES: LABUTTA, IRRAWADDY DELTA, BURMA AFTERMATH OF CYCLONE NARGIS DEAD FAMILIES, DESTITUTE SURVIVORS, DEVASTATION
The devastating aftermath of cyclone Nargis that ripped through Burma’s Irrawaddy delta region. (May 3, 2008).
Almost 150,000 people are dead or missing, another 2.5 million have been left destitute.
These distressing images were shot and smuggled out of Burma by underground trade union activists long fighting for democracy and human rights in their military-ruled country.
PICTURES: ANDAMAN SEA MARITIME BORDER BETWEEN BURMA AND THAILAND LONG-TAILED BOATS PLYING BETWEEN KAWTHOUNG (BURMA) AND RANGONG (THAILAND) PASSENGERS ON BOARD HIDE THEIR FACES FROM CAMERA
Now -- in the wake of the nation’s current tragedy -- there are fears that there will be a further massive outflow of undocumented Burmese workers to neighbouring Thailand.
BURMESE FISHERMEN SCRIPT/PAGE 2
SOUND-ON-TAPE (SOT): KRAISAK CHOONHAVAN M.P OF THAI OPPOSITION “DEMOCRACTIC PARTY”
(Kraisak says) “The minute you leave Burma to work abroad to work in Thailand legally or illegally you become a non-person. It leaves a person not only stateless but hopeless.”
PICTURES: SEPTEMBER, 2007, BURMA DEMOCRACY DEMONSTRATIONS MILITARY CRACK-DOWN
Millions of Burmese workers have fled their homeland to escape the economic ruin and political repression of almost five decades of dictatorship.
PICTURES: RANONG QUAYSIDE, THAILAND BURMESE TRAVELLERS/MIGRANTS GETTING OFF BOATS
Burma and Thailand share a porous 2,000 kilometer frontier.
No-one knows how many undocumented Burmese are working in Thailand. Figures quoted to the ITF range from one to three million.
PICTURES: BURMESE CONSTRUCTION AND AGRICULTURAL WORKERS; BANGKOK AND MAE SOT FISHERMEN AND DOCK WORKERS; RANONG AND PHUKET PORTS
What is certain is that great swathes of Thailand’s economy are based on the exploitation of undocumented Burmese migrants, who work in construction, agriculture, the sex trade and the fishing industry.
According to international trade unions, there are over 250,000 Burmese migrant fishermen and women fish-processing workers in Thailand’s billion-dollar, export-driven fishing industry. But only 70,000 are legally registered.
PICTURES: ITF SEAFARERS SEMINAR IN BANGKOK EST. SHOTS OF SHIGERU WADA, ITF ASIA-PACIFIC REGIONAL SECRETARY
The ITF -- with its affiliated transport unions in Thailand and the exiled, Bangkok-based Seafarers Union of Burma (SUB) – is now fighting to build trade unionism and improve the appalling conditions for undocumented Burmese fishers, who face brutality -- and even murder -- on the high seas.
BURMESE FISHERMEN SCRIPT/PAGE 3
SOT: SHIGERU WADA (Shigeru says) “It’s a kind of slavery. We can say (they are) victims of human trafficking. But in reality when they are sent to international waters to catch fish, they can’t come back; for three-years, four-years some of them. And they are not paid on board properly. When they come back they are also not paid at all.”
PICTURES: SUK SAAN HIN DA CEMETERY, RANONG, SOUTHERN THAILAND
In Ranong, southern Thailand, in a desolate, unhallowed plot of land lie the bodies of over 700 Burmese migrants.
The dead are interred in concrete coffins, laid in row after anonymous row.
Among them are the latest victims of ruthless cross-border people traffickers – 54 men, women and children, who suffocated to death.
PICTURES: DEATH TRUCK AT SUNSAMRANG POLICE STATION, 90KMS SOUTH OF RANONG
They were among 120 illegal Burmese migrants packed like barrels of fish into the back of this refrigerated truck who were being smuggled south to Phuket Island.
Many believe that smugglers operate with impunity because of their close connections with the Thai police and military.
SOT: KRAISAK CHOONHAVAN THAI OPPOSITION “DEMOCRACTIC PARTY” M.P
(Kraisak says) “The law enforcers are also the law breakers, or at least moonlight on law breaking. So any gang can penetrate if they find the right connection within the police.”
PICTURES: EST. SHOTS OF COL. KRAITHONG CHANTHONGBAI COMMANDER OF SUNSAMRANG POLICE STATION
But these claims are denied by local police commanders.
BURMESE FISHERMEN SCRIPT/PAGE 4
SOT: POLICE COL. KRAITHONG CHANTHONGBAI
(Col. Chanthongbai says) “In the past it was like this, it’s true. Police and military officials were involved in this type of thing. But we arrested these people and they’ve been kicked out of their jobs.”
From the air, the view of Tual Island is idyllic.
Fringed by coconut trees and pearly-white beaches, it’s set like a precious stone on the azure calm of Indonesia’s far eastern Banda Sea.
But for the estimated 700 to 1,200 runaway Burmese fishers – trapped below – Tual is a prison, not a paradise.
PICTURES: BURMESE FISHERMEN SOE MIN, TIN NAING, THAN NAING WALKING THRU TUAL FOREST
Living in constant fear of arrest, many of them, like Soe Min and his friends Tin Naing and Than Naing, eek out a precarious existence by foraging or farming in the forested interior of the island, that is almost 3,000-kilometres east of the Indonesian capital, Jakarta.
Thirty-three-year-old Soe Min says he fled Burma as a soldier after he was ordered to massacre innocent villagers.
PICTURES: THAI FISHING VESSELS OFF TUAL ISLAND TUAL FISH MARKET, SQUID BEING HELD UP, FISH BEING CHOPPED UP
But at sea, working illegally aboard a Thai fishing boat, with false Thai papers and only a vague promise of wages, Soe Min found himself in a world as brutal as the one he fled --and at the mercy of a crazed Thai captain who killed Burmese fishermen with impunity.
SOT: BURMESE FISHERMAN SOE MIN
(Soe Min say) “The water from the pipe was running around the deck and a squid was washed overboard. The skipper came down and hit him with a pipe. He raised his hand against the first blow and his hand broke. The second blow smashed his shoulder blade.
(MORE FOLLOWS) BURMESE FISHERMEN SCRIPT/PAGE 5
PICTURES: SOE MIN ON-CAMERA, HE POINTS TO BACK OF HIS HEAD
“Then he hit this place. He fell to the deck. There were other Thai workers near him. The skipper dropped the pipe, washed his hands and went back up to the wheelhouse. He ordered his people to throw him into the water. We saw he was still alive.
PICTURES: SAING WINNA PADDLING CANOE
Forty-five-year-old Saing Winna is another runaway Burmese fisherman on Tual.
SOT: SAING WINNA
(Saing Winna says) “I think our Burmese boatman die like dogs and pigs.
“The problem was one of our young Burmese guys; a Thai cook beat him with an iron bar in front of my eyes. The skipper asked if the guy was dead or not. I told him: ‘He hasn’t died yet, leave him alone, I’ll look after him. “The guy was hit at the back of his head and his brains spilled out. I grabbed him. He took an hour to die…..the young guy took an hour to die.”
PICTURES: DUMAR PORT, TUAL EST. SHOTS AUNG THU YA, PRESIDENT, SUB
SUB President Aung Thu Ya accompanied us on our visit to Tual Island.
SOT: AUNG THU YA
(Aung Thu Ya says) “Thai captains are committing inhumane abuses against our Burmese seafarers. Their cruelty is directed against most of our people, not just individuals. This is totally contrary to Thailand’s international image as a land of smiles and hospitality.
“The Thais are treating our Burmese boatmen in an unjust and abusive way. They torture our seamen, but their wealth and prosperity is based on us.”
The Indonesian Seafarers’ Union, the KPI, is now investigating the plight of Tual’s abandoned Burmese fishers.
(MORE FOLLOWS) BURMESE FISHERMEN SCRIPT/PAGE 6
PICTURES: EST. SHOTS PASSAL MELI, TUAL OFFICER OF INDONESIAN SEAFARERS’ UNION (KPI)
(Meli says) “KPI is working very hard to monitor this situation. We get data and information from the Harbour Master; then we contact immigration, boat owners and employers and tell them to stop intimidation, beatings and crimes at sea. We are seafarers, they are seafarers. We are all human beings.
The ITF – in solidarity with our affiliated Thai trade unions – is now working to end the exploitation of Burmese migrant fishers.
We urge you to join the ITF’s 4.5-million members, and our global trade unions partners, to fight for the rights of ALL undocumented migrant workers.
Written, narrated and filmed by David Browne
Camera assistant and sound Niranjan Racha Production crew: Oppie Rahajaan Mr Supot Achmad Hasan
Edited by Alistair Kerr
Executive producer for the ITF Sarah Finke
Produced and Directed by David Browne
A Parachute Pictures Production for The ITF