Migrants from Thailand and Vietnam report being trafficked into call center scams in Cambodia via false job advertisements on social media sites like Facebook.
Deceived and trafficked
Speaking to ABC News, Nokyoong described her experiences of travelling to Cambodia with her cousin Neung (not their real names) under false pretences, believing that they would be working in marketing and administrative roles.
The 26-year old left Thailand for Cambodia after speaking to the recruitment agent on multiple occasions to confirm the details of the job. Once they arrived in Sihanoukville, Cambodia’s casino capital, Nokyoong and Neung were taken to a compound where they were kept under lock and key and forced to make calls to trick people into sending money for investment scams.
They, and others in the compound, had their passports and identity documents taken away to prevent them from fleeing the country.
Nokyoong and Neung witnessed terrible violence at the hands of their traffickers, memories that still impact them today. Though victims tried to contact their embassies and Cambodian authorities, they risked being caught.
“A Vietnamese man was caught asking for help from his embassy, and the [scam leaders] told everyone to watch and started hitting him until a bone popped out from his leg,” Nokyoong said.
After Neung was caught trying to contact Thai authorities, he says he was moved to a different compound and tortured there.
“I was struck with an electric baton and hit on the face,” he said.
“I thought I might not survive.”
Victims treated as perpetrators
Jaruwat Jinmonca, co-founder of anti-trafficking organization the Immanuel Foundation Thailand, says that an estimated 3,000 Thai citizens have been the victim of labor scams in South-East Asia this year.
He said “It is a big problem and numbers are increasing … more people have been lured into these scams because of the dire economic situation from COVID”. However, in his view, governments aren’t taking the issue seriously or doing enough to support victims.
After six months, Nokyoong and Neung returned to Thailand after the call center they were forced to work in was raided by police. They were initially held in a Cambodian hotel for a month whilst an investigation was undertaken before being bussed across the border.
But instead of being treated as trafficking victims, they faced a new ordeal. Along with 22 others, Nokyoong and Neung are currently facing fraud charges in Thailand for the activities they were forced to commit as a result of their exploitation.
Their trials aren’t expected to begin until May when a court will decide whether to identify them as trafficking victims or willing participants in the scam.