According to the BBC, thousands of people across South East Asia have been trafficked to Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand where they are forced to work in online scam centers known as “fraud factories”.
“I knew then I had come to the wrong place”
Victims report accepting attractive work offers abroad but having their passports taken on arrival and forced into crypto fraud, money laundering and illegal gambling.
Yang Weibin decided to travel from Taiwan to Cambodia after he saw a job advertisement for a telesales role that would help him support his family. He was met at the airport by a group of men who took him to a bare house and told him he was not allowed to leave. Weibin said, “I knew then I had come to the wrong place, that this was a very dangerous situation”.
He spent 58 days in captivity before managing to escape from the compound where he was being held and returning to Taiwan with support from anti-scam activists.
Threatened with violence
Many other young people like Weibin have similar experiences and endured torture and abuse from their captors. Chi Tin who was trafficked from Vietnam explained his ordeal: “I was forced to make 15 friends every day and entice them to join online gambling and lottery websites… of these, I had to convince five people to deposit money into their gaming accounts. […] The manager told me to work obediently, not to try to escape or resist or I will be taken to the torture room… Many others told me if they did not meet the target, they would be starved and beaten.”
The BBC reports:
In the meantime many countries have launched public education campaigns to raise awareness of the scams.
Some have introduced screening for people leaving for South East Asian destinations, for example by stationing police at airports to ask people about their reasons for travel. Last month, Indonesian officials stopped multiple private flights chartered to ferry hundreds of workers to Cambodia’s Sihanoukville.
Groups of volunteers helping victims escape and return home, such as Gaso, have also sprung up in several countries. Some of these volunteers are former victims themselves – like Weibin.
Greater support for victims is needed
However, authorities’ efforts to prevent people from travelling and seeking work is not a solution to trafficking and exploitation. The economic necessity to find work remains, and making it harder for people to travel will only force people to take more dangerous routes abroad.
Peppi Kiviniemi-Siddiq, a specialist in Asia-Pacific migrant protection with the UN’s International Organization for Migration said “some of these governments need to update their trafficking laws, have necessary support systems for individuals”.