Xu Mingjian lay on the ground in pain as his captors laughed at him. He had injured his spine trying to escape from a building in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, where he was being held against his will and forced to work for an online scam company. The managers thought he would die from the fall and left him for dead.
An ongoing crisis
Xu is not alone. A modern slavery crisis continues to unfold in Cambodia despite months of pressure from civil society, embassies and the media.
Traffickers are tricking people like Xu into travelling to Cambodia’s casino towns with the promise of well-paid jobs. They are then sold to criminal networks that keep them locked up in compounds and force them to defraud people online under threats of extreme violence.
Inadequate response from the authorities
Trafficking rings have been setting up operations in casinos, luxury hotels and office complexes across the country over the last year and a half. Initial reports led to some police intervention and commitments from the government to crack down on the issue, but no high-level criminals have been charged. So what is holding the authorities back?
The Guardian quotes says Ekapop Lueangprasert, a volunteer who supports Thai victims to escape and return:
The main obstacle is that many of the Chinese that run human trafficking and scam rings in Cambodia have a lot of influence. If the local Cambodian authorities hear anything about a raid from their Thai counterparts, they inform the gangs, who move the victims and confiscate their phones. Sometimes when there are raids, the rescuers find the location empty.
Survivors and relatives of survivors say that victims who escape and report traffickers to the police often face reprisals. Some are returned to their captors and others disappear.
Time for action
Xu was able to get help from a nearby tuk-tuk driver who took him to hospital. He is now safely back home in China with his family. But the Cambodia government must protect others by immediately strengthening its approach to investigating the criminal networks behind the modern slavery in its casino towns.