New Element of Asian Slave Trade: 'Floating Prisons'

Reuters investigation reveals troubling development
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 22, 2014 2:36 PM CDT
Migrant workers unload frozen fish from a boat at a fish market west of Bangkok. The US has blacklisted Thailand and Malaysia for failing to meet its minimum standards in fighting human trafficking.   (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

(Newser) – "The experiences of these men recall the trans-Atlantic slave trade of centuries ago." That from a Reuters investigation into the Asian slave trade that uncovered a troubling new element to the practice. Past reports have held that Rohingya Muslims from Burma and Bangladesh willingly boarded smuggling boats in hopes of getting to Malaysia, only to then be sold. Now, reports are growing of people being abducted (in some cases after being drugged) and then forced aboard. Reuters interviewed a handful of Bangladeshi and Rohingya men who say the were forcibly put aboard such a boat in international waters off Bangladesh, where they were held until the group was hundreds-strong "in what are effectively floating prisons," notes Reuters.

Reuters recounts the story of Afsar Miae, who went to a house in a southern Bangladesh town looking for work. He was given a drink of water that was likely drugged; he woke up, bound and blindfolded, on a boat that sailed to a larger boat studded with armed guards and bound for Thailand. He, along with four others who were on the ship, tell a wretched tale: frequent whippings, forced squatting, contaminated water, almost total darkness, and a hatch opened only when dead bodies needed to be disposed of. They were ultimately rescued, but had they made it, two men tell Reuters they would have been sold for $200. It's those prices that are fueling the practice, say human rights advocates. Says one, "There are always five to eight boats waiting in the Bay of Bengal. And the brokers are desperate to fill them." Read the full investigation, or read about the jungle hell that awaits many of the abducted.

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