“THE STORM MAKERS”
Cambodia’s Human Trafficking
Guillaume Suon’s “The Storm Makers” is the story of Aya, a Cambodian peasant girl former slave who at the age of 16, the young Cambodian peasant was sold to work as a maid in Malaysia. While in Malaysia, she was exploited for two years and received no salary. She was beaten and abused. When she could return to her village, she was just as poor as she was before she left and she brought with her a child conceived during rape.
The film looks at modern-day slavery in Cambodia by giving viewers the fate of this young woman and the daily lives of two human traffickers, a local recruiter and the head of an agency. Cambodian people call these traffickers “Mey Kechol” (the Storm Makers).
More than half a million Cambodians work abroad and a third of these have been sold as slaves. Most are young women who are held as prisoners and who are forced to work in terrible conditions, sometimes as prostitutes, in Malaysia, Thailand and Taiwan.
The “storm makers” use deception to funnel a move poor and illiterate people across the country’s borders. French-Cambodian filmmaker Guillaume Soon presents here an eye-opening look at the cycle of poverty, despair and greed that fuels this brutal modern slave trade. The film provides brutally candid testimony as it exposes this horrible practice and it is an eye-opening look at the complex cycle of poverty, despair and greed of this brutal modern slave trade.
The story is told from the perspectives of three people, a former slave whose return home is greeted with bitterness and scorn by her mother; a successful trafficker who works with local recruiters to move the slaves across borders, and a mother who supplies the recruiter with not only local girls, but also with her own daughter.
Aya was eventually able to run away but after she was recaptured, she was brutally rape, only to be captured and raped. When she returned home with an infant son, her mother greeted her not with anger that her daughter had come back and brought with her another mouth to feed instead of money.
Cambodians call places like the village that Aya came from “ghost towns.” Director Suon and his assistant director, Phally Ngoeum, researched and filmed for three years, spending long periods in Cambodia’s villages and cities, and were able to gain the trust of both the victims and perpetrators of trafficking.
Pou Houy, 52, is a successful trafficker who runs a recruitment agency in Phnom Penh and claims to have sold more than 500 girls. He is surprisingly outspoken and shameless and expresses no remorse, rather he sees himself as a smart businessman, a good provider and even a good Christian. Although his company has been accused of trafficking by the local media, he has never been investigated by the police and continues to recruit young and poor Cambodians to work abroad. His business depends on local recruiters, who bring him candidates from their rural communities. One of these, Ming Dy, sold her own daughter and continues to bring Houy h new recruits from her village. She justifies her actions by claiming she has no other way to pay her bills.
One of the most emotional scenes shows Ming Dy’s husband who cannot bring himself to speak to his daughter when she calls from a new job abroad, where she earns a dollar a day. He says that he told his wife not to sell young people from the village—. “Buddha condemns those who sell people like animals. I could have sold the bike and the oxen to pay back our debts. . . . this money will bring us bad luck.” In another, a woman shows a picture of her 20-year-old daughter, who committed suicide in Cambodia after being trafficked. says Ming Dy. The mother tearfully warns a new candidate for migration to not go.
Pou Houy, the trafficker, supports not only his immediate family, but a dozen or so other relatives as well. His modern home, fancy car and concrete driveway are in sharp contrast with his relatives’ house right next door and its dirt road. But food is plentiful, and they are all better off than most people. He had been starving before he began his business and he promised himself never to be poor again. He tells us that in Cambodia one has only two choices: to be a slave or a trafficker.
We can only wonder how a country can become a state where trafficking family members and neighbors become acceptable. We are told that about five or six years ago, during the financial crisis, a lot of factories shut down in Cambodia and thousands lost their jobs and had to find a way to earn money. Trafficking networks took power because they were able to send thousands and thousands of people abroad — for them it was a golden opportunity, because people were starving.
The film not only explores the political and economic roots of human trafficking but also the moral choices being made by those on both sides of the equation. Cambodian migrants have been reduced to the status of slaves. They are transparent, or worse, completely invisible.
Both men and women are affected by the trafficking and despite recent economic growth, 26% of the adult population cannot read and write and nearly 20 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. The ongoing political tensions in the country combined with the significant unemployment triggered by the 2008 financial crisis led to hundreds of thousands of people desperately looking for work.
The director lived in Cambodia for seven years, including in the country’s villages, where most of Cambodia’s trafficking victims come from. Nearly everyone knows someone who has taken the journey, and villagers were quick to point out the “storm makers” within the community. Due to the sensitivity of the issue, Suon and his small team had to spend time gaining the trust of locals. This is film is the result of those years.