In 2006, Cambodian Vannak Prum arrived in Malai, a city located in north-western Cambodia along the Thai border, with the promise of a job. Prum left his pregnant wife in the hopes of returning home in a few months with the money to support his growing family. Instead, he was forced into slavery on a Thai fishing boat where he endured torture, starvation and the constant threat of death. Prum, a victim of deception and forced labour, would not see his family for four years.
Prum’s story began in his native Cambodian village where he supported his pregnant wife and searched for a job that would cover the expected medical bill of her delivery. One day, a man on a motorbike taxi approached him and informed him that the only available jobs were across the border in Thailand. The man claimed he could get Prum a job drying fish. Prum joined 30 other men and women in Malai, and together they travelled across the border into Thailand where a truck waited to pick them up. Prum and his companions crammed into the bed of the truck, stacked side by side and one on top of the other. They were covered with a tarp.
Unbeknownst to them, the group’s destination was a small, windowless, cement room that remained locked from the outside. After arriving at the room, Prum, using a small hole in the wall, saw the ocean and several fishing boats. At that moment he realized he had been sold to work on a boat. In the morning Prum and the other captives were given clothing and taken to the boat where they were held below deck until the ship travelled far out to sea.
Prum spent three years trapped on that fishing boat, enduring dangerous and gruelling work for up to 20 hours a day with little to no sleep. In addition to difficult working conditions, Prum and the other workers were subjected to beatings and torture from their traffickers for slacking.
One night when the boat was on its way to acquire a Malaysian fishing license. Prum and another man dove overboard around midnight and swam several miles to shore using emptied fish sauce containers as buoys. After spending the night in the forest, Prum made his way to a police station where he pleaded with the authorities to send him back to Cambodia. Unfortunately he was then sold to work on a palm oil plantation where he would be kept for four more months. This was better but one night after a fight Prum was arrested and jailed for 7 months. During this period he was contacted by Manfred Hornung . Who worked for a Cambodian human rights org and eventually Prum was released in May 2010.
He made it his mission to educate the people of Cambodia on the dangers of human trafficking through rich illustrations of his personal experience.