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25 Jul 2022

Lindsey Kennedy & Nathan Paul Southern, Global Initiative

Mekong Region: Numbers of modern slavery in cyber-fraud schemes are on the rise during COVID-19 in Cambodia; similar patterns are evident in the Mekong Region

"Modern slavery in the Mekong’s casinos", 25 July 2022

… In South East Asia’s popular casino hubs, the sharp drop in visitor numbers, especially gamblers from China and Thailand, has fostered an alarming new organized crime phenomenon – modern slavery in cyber-fraud schemes.

In numerous sites across Cambodia, it is estimated that tens of thousands of people, primarily from the Mekong region, but also India and Ukraine, are reportedly being held against their will and forced to operate sophisticated cyber scams. Exploited workers say they are imprisoned in complexes by Chinese criminal groups, who torture those who try to escape.

Most of Cambodia’s 150 casinos are Chinese-owned and based in Sihanoukville, with several others located on the borders with Vietnam and Thailand, and one mega-casino complex in Phnom Penh…

Over the past two years, NGOs, journalists, police officers and senior government authorities have raised the alarm on the scale of human trafficking and modern slavery detected in these scam operations. Victims allege having been subjected to forced labour, confinement, violent assault, sexual exploitation and being used as ‘blood slaves’, where their blood is allegedly taken and sold…

... As the crisis has attracted more attention, civil society actors working to help trafficking victims have themselves become targets of arrest. Chen Baorong is a Chinese businessman based in Sihanoukville and head of the Cambodia–China Charity, an organization that rescues and repatriates Chinese victims of trafficking…, Chen helped one escapee, Li Ya Yuan Lun, who claimed he had been kidnapped and sold to a gang that harvested his blood…