Myint Naing was tricked into slavery as an 18-year-old. Now, after surviving beatings and shackling for 22 years, he has returned home.
The 40-year-old was rescued among 800 other slaves after a year-long investigation by the Associated Press exposed pervasive labor abuses in Southeast Asia's seafood industry.
Troubles for Myint began in 1993 when a broker visited his home village in southern Burma, offering seemingly lucrative jobs in Thailand for young men.
An 18-year-old Myint was desperately in need of money to provide for his family at that time. He accepted the offer and was transported to a remote Indonesian island of Tual via a boat. There, he learned he would likely never see his family again.
"You Burmese are never going home. You were sold, and no one is ever coming to rescue you," Myint recalled the ship's captain saying.
Along with thousands of other slaves, Myint spent weeks in the open ocean, surviving only on boiled seawater and rice. He even had to work for up to 24 hours a day during busy times while suffering severe physical abuse.
After enduring the torture for almost three years, Myint escaped in 1996 after which an Indonesian family felt pity for him and took him in. For five years, he worked and lived with them, until in 2001he learned that a captain was offering to take fishermen back to Myanmar if they agreed to work.
Unfortunately, that so-called job opportunity also turned out to be a trafficking trap and Myint was once again shackled and forced to work. Once again, he escaped and hid in a jungle, where he lived for eight years.
When he had had enough of solitude, Myint moved to the island of Dobo, where he lived with a small community of former Burmese slaves.
Finally, earlier this year in April, he found out about an Indonesian government initiative to rescue former and current slaves. Myint subsequently returned to his home village and reunited with his family, an emotional moment captured on camera by the AP.
"In the future, I'll never go anywhere again. I'll live and work in Burma only. I'll die in Burma," he told the news agency.
Myint’s heart-wrenching story has helped expose the dark side of the fishing industry in Thailand – the world's third-largest seafood exporter.
While the Thai government figures claim there are 145,000 working in its fishing industry – with 80% of those mainly immigrant workers from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos – activist group Raks Thai Foundation suggests there are in fact more than 200,000 trafficked, unregistered workers.
Last year, the U.S. State Department downgraded Thailand to the lowest rank in its Trafficking in Persons Report 2014, for systematic failure to prosecute slavers.