Burmese fishing 'slave' seeks his saviours

Last updated 05:00 19/02/2013
Ye Aung
Ye Aung

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A Burmese man who escaped from a Korean fishing boat when it arrived in Bluff six years ago is searching for people he says saved his life after giving him shelter.

Ye Aung said he was was fed up with the "slave-like treatment" on the fishing boat so he decided to run away.

Spurred on by the idea of help at Lyttelton Port, he jumped ship.

However, he did not realise how far away Lyttelton was from Bluff.

"I didn't know where I was going, so I kept walking and followed the train tracks . . . I thought New Zealand was only a small island," he said.

It was too cold to sleep outside, so he kept walking to stay warm.

After ripping a map from a public phone book in Invercargill, he wandered for days in a direction he thought would take him to Lyttelton.

"By the third night, I was so cold, wet from the rain, hungry, lost and desperate for help. I saw a dead end and knew I was lost."

He stumbled on a house, near a no exit sign, and in the darkness, he hoped someone was home.

A man, who he believes was called Steve, answered the door and thought he was trying to rob the house. "He was wondering . . . why I was there so late at night. I don't blame him for being wary of a stranger".

Mr Aung told the man and his wife about his escape and his plan to walk to Lyttelton.

The couple gave him coffee, toast and made a bed for him on the couch. They explained the distance he had to travel and told him he was at Eastern Bush.

The next morning they drove Mr Aung to a place he thinks was Invercargill, where he hitched a lift in a car, he said.

The woman had given Mr Aung some apples for the journey and a map of the South Island, which he still has.

Mr Aung eventually made his way to Auckland where he said in August 2006 he made a complaint to the Department of Labour about his treatment on the boat. He was granted asylum and gained permanent residency in 2008.

He was now working as an apprentice mechanic in Auckland and has applied for citizenship.

He said he has never forgotten the kindness shown him by the couple who gave him shelter.

Now that he had finished studying, Mr Aung would return to Southland next month for the first time since that night.

"They took a stranger into their home in the middle of the night. I would have not survived another night in the cold. I want to thank them for saving me."

He had been unable to track down the Eastern Bush couple and would like Southlanders to help him find them. He believed the woman was a teacher at Otautau school. He contacted the school but nobody knew the woman.

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The couple had two children - a girl and a boy about 8 or 9 at the time.

He believed Steve was a farmer because his wife dropped him off at a farm about 1km from the house.

He remembers hearing a stream during the night as he walked in the direction of the house and being surrounded by mountains.

If you know who "Steve" and his family are, email collette.devlin@stl.co.nz or phone 03 211 1040.

- The Southland Times

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