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2 Aug 2022

Lindsey Kennedy and Nathan Paul Southern, The Diplomat (USA)

Southeast Asia: Special Economic Zones in Mekong region become hub for scam operations and human trafficking as organised crime groups grow

"Inside Southeast Asia’s Casino Scam Archipelago" 2 August 2022

[...] The woman explains that she traveled from Bangkok to Sa Kaeo on the Thailand-Cambodia border to meet a Thai broker who had promised her a job in Poipet, a seedy casino town just over the border in Cambodia. She was then told that the role would actually involve scamming strangers online – and that if she wanted to leave, her father would have to pay 40,000 baht ($1,080) to secure her release. [...]

All told near-identical stories about being duped by offers of well-paid, legitimate work, only to find themselves imprisoned in horrifying conditions by Chinese gangsters. Under constant threat of violence, they were forced to engage in illegal activities – mostly tricking people into making fake investments online – with the knowledge or even collusion of local authorities.

“The serious rights abuses happening in these border casino cities and so-called ‘special economic zones’ require urgent action by governments,” says Phil Robertson, Asia director for the advocacy group Human Rights Watch. [...]

Industrial-scale online scam operations proliferated during the COVID-19 pandemic, taking over massive, heavily guarded complexes in hotspots like Cambodia’s Sihanoukville and Poipet, and the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone in Bokeo, northwest Laos. [...]

Survivors and rescuers interviewed in Laos and Thailand described workers trafficked into these compounds as being beaten, electrocuted, starved of food and water, and sold to other companies if they resist or fail to make their targets. [...]

Part of the following timelines

Cambodia: Rights groups express concern over human trafficking as scam operations grow

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