The Cambodian government has come under fire for turning a blind eye to Chinese crime rings that human trafficked ‘up to 100,000’ migrant workers and forced them to run online scams, including fraudulent crypto ICOs.
Cambodia has become a hotbed for Chinese gangs thanks to a close relationship between its governments. Many chose to run casinos until the Covid-19 pandemic forced them into online scams instead.
Ads on social media promising well-paid customer service jobs in Cambodia lured in ‘tens of thousands’ of Asian workers, from China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. Upon arrival, victims had their passports taken and were held captive, forced to work in ‘cyber scam mills.’
“The bosses said if I tried to leave they would just sell me to another gang,” Soraton, a 20-year-old from Thailand, told the LA Times. “That’s when I realized I was a slave.”
Scams ranged from gambling, romance schemes, fake real estate development, and crypto hustles. If workers were unsuccessful, they would reportedly face torture, abuse, murder, or be sold to another gang.
“Instead of getting fired for poor performance, you get physical punishments — forced push-ups and squats, tased, beaten, deprived of food, locked up in dark rooms or worse,” said Jacob Sims, director for International Justice Mission Cambodia, which has helped to rescue over 100 workers from scam gangs (via LA Times).
“On the other hand, those who consistently meet or surpass their targets are rewarded with more freedoms, food, money and control over other victims.”
Yet success came at the cost of scamming innocent people out of their life savings, often with devastating consequences. Soraton recalled how a victim of his scam video-called the crime syndicate pleading for his money to be returned — he needed to pay for his mother’s medical bills.
When they refused, the victim picked up a gun and shot himself.
“There was just silence after we heard the gunshot. The boss just walked away. These people have no feelings because they’re human traffickers.”
Cambodia faces mounting international pressure to help scam gang victims
Cambodia estimates up to 100,000 people could be involved in scam rings, yet denies that widespread human trafficking is taking place, the LA Times reports.
Faced with mounting international pressure, Cambodian authorities finally raided dozens of compounds in the capital, Phnom Penh, and Sihanoukville. Thousands of victims were sent home — but experts believe that many were just sent to new facilities in low key areas, instead.
“Cambodia’s international standing has fallen several rungs as a result of this,” Sophal Ear, a Cambodia specialist and political scientist at Arizona State University, told the LA Times.
Soratan has suffered from months of insomnia since his escape. Sometimes, he gets scam calls.
“I tell them, ‘Don’t bother, I just made it back home.’ Then they always ask me, ‘How did you escape?’”