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22 Jul 2023

Alastair McCready and Allegra Mendelson, South China Morning Post (Hong Kong)

Myanmar: Chinese-run scam hubs reportedly continue running unabated with signs of human trafficking and forced labour

See all tags Allegations

"Inside the Chinese-run crime hubs of Myanmar that are conning the world: ‘we can kill you here’" 22 July 2023

“Run!” was the only instruction given to Filipinos Max and Jane, ending their six-month ordeal of forced online scamming in Myanmar.

A day into their freedom, sitting at a farmhouse on the outskirts of Mae Sot – the same Thai border town they were trafficked through late last year – the pair recalled their nervous final moments as a boat edged across a narrow neck of river towards safety. [...]

Untold thousands have made the same journey – coaxed from Malaysia, Taiwan and Indonesia; India, Kenya and Nepal by promises of high-paying work – only to be trapped for months, or years, in a labyrinth of cyber scams. [...] But in Myanmar, these brutal criminal enterprises continue unchecked. They are abetted by the country’s ongoing domestic turmoil, brought about by the 2021 military coup, and operated by alliances of Chinese criminals and a local paramilitary group, beyond the reach of outside law enforcement, civil society and the media. [...]

Investigating the crisis, This Week in Asia spoke with 18 former and current workers from seven countries, all of whom were trafficked to the Myawaddy area of Kayin state this year and last, where they were forced to scam; physically and psychologically abused; and prevented from leaving.

It’s the “United Nations of scamming”, said Jason Tower, Myanmar country director at conflict monitor the United States Institute of Peace (USIP). “You’ve got scammers who’ve been trafficked in as forced labour from all these different countries.” [...]

Part of the following timelines

Myanmar: Chinese firms allegedly associated with criminal networks partner with local armed groups in developing special economic zones, analysts say

Southeast Asia: Workers are lured into slavery in online scam centres; victims say they were beaten, electrocuted, & sold to other 'fraud factories'