A UN report says criminal gangs have trafficked hundreds of thousands of people to work in online scam centres in Cambodia and across Southeast Asia. The report, published on August 29, says at least 120,000 people across Myanmar and 100,000 in Cambodia have been targeted. The UN cites “credible sources” for the numbers.
A Bangkok Post report also lays out some of the key problems for the Cambodian and regional governments.
According to the report, the victims are lured to work in online scam operations such as crypto fraud and online gambling, run by criminal gangs in Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and the Philippines. Many of these call centres are dressed up as ‘casinos’ and often involve local officials being paid off to turn a ‘blind eye’.
Volker Turk, UN High Commissioner, says the victims are just that.
“People who are coerced into working in these scamming operations endure inhumane treatment while being forced to carry out crimes. They are victims. They are not criminals.”
Speaking to Reuters, Chhay Kim Khoeun, spokesman for the Cambodian police said he hadn’t seen the report but disputed the figures.
“I don’t know how to respond, where did they get the number from? Have they investigated? Where did they get the data? Foreigners are just saying things.”
Meanwhile, there was no response from the Burmese military junta.
According to the UN report, the crisis has worsened since the Covid-19 pandemic forced the closure of casinos, which led to people seeking work in less regulated sectors. The UN Human Rights Office says such scam operations are making billions of US dollars in revenue every year.
“Faced with new operational realities, criminal actors increasingly targeted migrants in vulnerable situations, for recruitment into criminal operations, under the pretence of offering them real jobs.”
According to the report, most victims are from Southeast Asian countries, with others from China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, and some as far afield as Africa and Latin America.
The UN is urging Southeast Asian governments to enact more stringent laws targeting such criminal operations and the corruption that enables them.