News / Asia

Trafficked Thai Workers' Dreams Become Nightmares

Nopphon Fuchumpa was brought to the United States from Thailand with the promise of work by human traffickers        Nopphon Fuchumpa was brought to the United States from Thailand with the promise of work by human traffickers
x
Nopphon Fuchumpa was brought to the United States from Thailand with the promise of work by human traffickers
Nopphon Fuchumpa was brought to the United States from Thailand with the promise of work by human traffickers
Sarah Williams
In 2004, Nopphon Fuchumpa was promised a great opportunity in the United States.

The Thai laborer was told if he raised sufficient funds, he could travel to the U.S. and find work there. “They told me there are a lot of opportunities for work, especially work in farming,” he said.

What followed was a nightmarish saga that Fuchumpa said led to his being trafficked.  He had to take out a loan for approximately $10,000 and hand over a deed for what he called his “ancestral land.”  Then, he was told he had to supply an additional $10,000.

“First, I didn’t want to come (to the United Sates) because it’s such a large amount of money,” he said.  “I paid half of it and I made the commitment to pay the other half.    I kept thinking there would be a lot of opportunities to work in America, and I asked a recruiter, ‘Are you sure they’re real jobs there?’ And he said ‘Yeah, there are a lot of real jobs there. You’re halfway there, keep going.’”

Fuchumpa is one of more than 200 Thai workers involved in a legal case against Global Horizons Manpower Company, a labor contractor based in Los Angeles, California.   

In September of 2010, agents working for the company were accused of luring farm workers to Hawaii from Thailand and mistreating them in what the FBI said is the largest human trafficking case ever charged in U.S. history.

The U.S. Justice Department dismissed charges of conspiracy to commit human trafficking against the company in the summer of 2012, saying the accusations could not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.  A civil case is still pending.  Global Horizons has denied the charges, and did not respond to VOA’s request for an interview.

The financial impact on Fuchumpa has been lasting.  In Thailand, Fuchumpa said he asked family members for help.  He said his mother and sister-in-law helped by taking out additional loans.

When Fuchumpa arrived at the airport in Bangkok for his flight to the United States, he was warned that if he told anyone that he had paid the equivalent of $20,000 to make the trip, he would be sent back home.

In Los Angeles, the Thai Community Development Center has long been involved in trying to help people like Fuchumpa.   The organization participated in the groundbreaking El Monte Trafficking case in 1995, when 72 thai women were  found working in a sweatshop in Los Angeles County.
      
Chanchanit Martorell, Thai Community Development Center, Los AngelesChanchanit Martorell, Thai Community Development Center, Los Angeles
x
Chanchanit Martorell, Thai Community Development Center, Los Angeles
Chanchanit Martorell, Thai Community Development Center, Los Angeles
Chanchanit Martorell, the executive director of the Center, said she sees mainly labor trafficking involving men, defying the common perception that trafficking usually affects women and girls.

“It has become a huge industry where everyone stands to profit from the recruitment and trafficking of Thai individuals, women, children and men, even your Thai grandmother in a village could get paid to find someone, and turn that person over to a trafficker,” she said.

When Fuchumpa arrived in the U.S., he was sent to pick apples on a farm in the northwestern state of Washington.  When that ended, he was sent to Hawaii to work 10-hour days in brutal heat on a pineapple farm.

“The conditions were very harsh, especially the weather,” he said. “We had to pick up the pineapples directly under the sun, and we were told if we couldn’t do the job fast enough we would be sent back to Thailand.”

Another Thai worker, Amphon Kanthawang, said he was trafficked, and arrived in the U.S. in 2004.  Like Fuchumpa, he had to pay about $20,000 to come to the U.S., where he initially worked on a North Carolina potato farm.  When that assignment ended, he was sent also to Hawaii to pick pineapples.

“It was kind of like a military camp,” he said. “There was no direct pipeline that brought water to us...we had storage tanks…they had to ration the water, only so much to bathe yourself, and most importantly to drink and eat.”

For his part, Fuchumpa said the workers sometimes didn’t have enough to eat, and that some fainted in the fields.

“The workers had to wake up at four in the morning to get in line, there would be two long lines to get food early in the morning,” he said.  “People who were at the end of the line, sometimes they didn’t even get food, you’d get a little box of maybe rice or something, it was barely enough to eat.”

The workers said they were also subjected to verbal abuse, and their employers would criticize them for not doing enough work, warning them they would be sent back to Thailand. 

According to Martorell, such behavior is routine in trafficking cases.  “The passports are confiscated, you’re left to live in a flophouse with no utilities, no running water, no furnishings, and then you’re guarded 24/7, not allowed to leave the premises, and you have no contact with the outside world, so your freedom has been completely stripped,” she said.

Most trafficking cases are discovered only because victims decide to take matters into their own hands and escape. Fuchumpa and his fellow workers met secretly on the pineapple farm, and vowed to meet one day in Los Angeles. “We said, ‘We have to go out and risk and die with the sword, or else we’ll have nothing left,’” he said.

Fuchumpa was sent from Hawaii to Fresno, California, where he was told he would be sent back to Thailand.  He was able to phone a friend in Los Angeles, and the friend sent a taxi to collect him at an apartment complex in Fresno.  Fuchumpa threw his belongings over a wall, climbed over the wall, and fled into the waiting taxi.  He settled in Los Angeles, where he now works in construction, and hopes one day to return to Thailand on his own terms.
 
Kanthawang also fled his traffickers. He now lives in Los Angeles, and has worked in construction and in restaurants.

“Workers summon the courage and risk their lives, and their family’s lives, to escape because they couldn’t stand it anymore  -- to be denied their freedom, and to be denied contact with the outside world and to be treated in the most inhumane way,” said Martorell.

Martorell said trafficking exists in the open, yet its victims are hard to recognize. “It could be someone who is waiting on you at a Thai restaurant.  They may appear to be completely free, but in fact, they’re not getting paid, “ she said.  “In fact they’re being housed and not allowed to leave their housing.”

“They’re completely psychologically threatened, so even though they may be out in the open, serving food, they’re not going to escape because they’ve been so programmed,” Martorell added.

You May Like

At Khmer Rouge Court, Long-Awaited Verdict Approaches

First phase of trial, which is coming to an end, has focused on forced exodus of Phnom Penh in 1975 - and now many are hopeful justice will be served More

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities More

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

Downing of Malaysian airliner, allegations of cross-border shelling move information war in war-torn country to a new level More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
July 31, 2014 8:13 PM
The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.

AppleAndroid