In 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic jeopardized the livelihood of millions around the globe, some of the most immediate victims of economic hardship were those in the travel and transport industry.
That is the story of Rahim (not his real name). Rahim was a boat operator who lived with his family in Indonesia. When the pandemic hit, and the borders began closing he found himself without work. As times grew desperate, and acquaintance of Rahim offered him work in Cambodia which he took.
The job however, wasn’t as was advertised. Upon arrival, after being trafficked to Cambodia, Rahim’s passport was confiscated and he was held captive in a call center compound where he and many others were forced to scam people online for money.
Rahim tells The Guardian:
“It was an easy job, they said. They would provide me with a place to stay and three meals a day. They promised me US$700 [about A$1,000] a month if I joined them. I never understood what cryptocurrency was. I just understood I had to help sell it.”
His job was, as he tells it, to pose as an attractive woman online and scam people from different countries into buying cryptocurrency. Along with around 70 other people, Rahim was expected to meet unrealistic quotas and kept in deplorable conditions. When they couldn’t perform as expected, they were beaten and isolated.
Rahim explained via a translator:
“If I made a mistake on my job I was put in a dark room,” he says. “I couldn’t escape from the room. I wasn’t allowed to eat anything for a week.”
Three men involved in the trafficking of Rahim and many others from Indonesia were arrested in March of this year. The conviction for human trafficking related to scamming was a first for the country and activists are applauding the precedent it sets.
There has been this particular type of exploitation is on the rise in countries like Cambodia, Malaysia and Myanmar. At risk individuals from across Asia are lured away from their homes and families with the promise of fair pay and a better life but too many of them are met with the same inhumane conditions as Rahim.