Some 60 Thai workers allegedly trafficked and ransomed by an online gambling outfit in Cambodia were repatriated Monday to their home country.
According to The Bangkok Post, the victims were deceived into working for the illegal operation after answering false job advertisements in Sihanoukville, a casino boomtown on Cambodia’s west coast.
Once there, they were kept in “slave-like” conditions. Those who refused to comply were beaten and threatened with being sold for slave labor. They were rescued after their captors demanded a ransom from their relatives, who were able to notify Thai authorities.
The Post reports the relatives’ pleas were amplified by social media and reached the ears of Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. He ordered the Royal Thai Police to cooperate with Cambodian authorities to intervene.
Authorities arrested four Chinese, four Cambodians, and two Thai suspects at the scene.
Three More Rescued
Two weeks earlier, three Thai women were rescued from an underground online gambling operation under similar circumstances, the Post said. The women, identified only as Jenjira, Pornnapa, and Sasinipa, were being held by an online gambling operation in Poipet, another Cambodian boomtown on the Thai border.
Police said the women were being held by their Chinese employer who demanded a ransom of 10,000 baht each (around $306) for their release. That’s about half the average monthly wage in Thailand. The man threatened to sell the women to a call center gang in China if the ransom was not paid.
The women have been in quarantine for the past two weeks because of coronavirus-related travel restrictions, but are now home and being interviewed by police.
These are just the latest of many reports coming out of Cambodia about human trafficking linked to the country’s illegal gambling industry, much of which is reportedly controled by Chinese triads.
A study published in September by the Thompson Reuters Foundation found that foreign workers and tourists stranded in Cambodia because of the pandemic have become easy prey for these gangs. The country’s land borders are closed, and flights out are infrequent.
Traffickers on the Move?
Most of the reports relate to operations based in Sihanoukville, which has become a gambling mecca for Chinese tourists in recent years. But there are also signs that the trafficking gangs are on the move.
The Khmer Times reports that many operators have moved north to Koh Kong and other provinces because of the “rising costs” of doing business in Sihanoukville. Others have moved out of Cambodia altogether, to countries including Liberia, the Philippines, and Indonesia, where they can find “better margins.”
Cambodia prohibited online gambling from September 2019, bowing to pressure from its biggest trading partner, China. This makes it difficult for illegal operators to find cheap labor legally, which may partly explain the rise in trafficking and also the gradual exodus from Cambodia of the gangs that control it.
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