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Human trafficking widespread in Southeast Asia

Online scammers send victims to Cambodia and Myanmar


Human rights lawyer Patricia Ho (let) and Programme Manager at an anti-trafficking NGO, Michelle Wong, speak to the media in Hong Kong about residents being trafficked to work in scam syndicates. Getty Images/Photo by Isaac Lawrence/AFP

Human trafficking widespread in Southeast Asia

Yu Tang, a young Taiwanese woman, was in a Facebook group for job seekers, which was how a Taiwanese woman she didn’t know found her in April, she told The Guardian. That woman connected Yu Tang to an overseas call center job that sent her to Cambodia. 

Once there with other recruits, people claiming to be travel agents confiscated their passports and took them to Sihanoukville, a city of Chinese-owned casinos. Instead of the jobs they were offered, the recruits were ordered to run phone scams. To leave, they needed to pay $17,000. 

Like Yu Tang, 373 others from Taiwan have been trafficked to Cambodia, Taiwan’s Cabinet spokesman Lo Ping-cheng said last Thursday. A few of them were trafficked for sex, he added. But looking at travel records, Taiwan’s police think thousands could’ve been victims. And not only Taiwanese. Foreign nationals from across Asia numbering thousands have been trafficked into Cambodia, Al Jazeera reported earlier this month. 

Online scam gangs lure job seekers with fake ads that promise well-paid overseas employment with good benefits. The captives are then forced to work long hours scamming others. If they fail to make a certain amount of money, they are punished.

Dozens of Hong Kongers have also fallen victim, with some trapped in Myanmar, also known as Burma. Abducted from Thailand and taken to Myanmar in recent months, three Hong Kong men told HK01, a Hong Kong news outlet, they need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to be released from their current scamming compound. Coerced to operate phone scams, they’re allowed limited phone use. They say they’ve been sold to multiple compounds, including KK Park, which has been linked to allegations of organ harvesting. One man said he saw a guard shoot someone trying to escape. 

Last Thursday, 42 people from Vietnam fled a casino in Cambodia, reported VnExpress, a Vietnamese online newspaper. They jumped into a river and swam toward their home country, a viral clip showed, as rod-wielding guards chased after them. Vietnamese police have since identified four human-trafficking rings. 

As increasing reports of human trafficking surface, authorities throughout Asia have launched rescue efforts to bring citizens home and arrested job scam suspects. In Indonesia, police intercepted a chartered flight that would’ve carried 212 citizens without proper documentation as migrant workers to Sihanoukville. On Tuesday, police there arrested five Chinese men for suspected human trafficking and rescued one Malaysian woman.

As for Yu Tang, she eventually contacted a local Cambodian politician’s office, which helped her escape. 

World Radar

NICARAGUA: In the ongoing crackdown on the Roman Catholic church, authorities shuttered another radio station Wednesday, the Catholic News Agency reported. The government had already closed seven stations earlier this month. This follows last Friday’s arrest of Rolando Álvarez, the bishop of Matagalpa, who has openly criticized President Daniel Ortega. Five priests and two seminarians were also arrested. Police put Álvarez under house arrest in Managua and sent the others to El Chipote, a prison notorious for torturing opponents of the regime. Authorities accuse Álvarez of organizing violent groups to destabilize the state. 

ETHIOPIA: As 5.5 million Tigrayans face food shortages and a block on their bank accounts imposed by the federal government, many women and girls have resorted to prostitution to survive, The Guardian reported last Friday. Tigray’s humanitarian crisis will likely worsen as fighting between regional Tigrayan forces and the Ethiopian government has resumed. Since civil war broke out in November 2020, Tigray has plunged into “the worst disaster on Earth,” said World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, an ethnic Tigrayan. He wondered if global leaders’ lack of response was due to “the color of the skin” of Tigrayans. 

IRAN: Authorities charged Sepideh Rashno, who defied the hijab mandate, with “assembly and collusion against national security,” “propaganda against the Islamic Republic,” and “encouraging [moral] corruption and prostitution,” reported the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran on Tuesday. Rashno, 28, was arrested in mid-July, following an altercation with a woman on a bus who confronted her about not wearing a headscarf. Iran introduced a national “Hijab and Chastity Day” on July 12 and tightened its dress code enforcement earlier this month. Rashno apologized on state television in late July while wearing a hijab, a “confession” many consider forced.

CHINA: In the hottest and driest summer of the past 61 years, Sichuan shut down factories and switched off lights in offices, shopping malls, and subway stations to conserve power. The southwest province derives 80 percent of its power from hydroelectric dams. The drought has also caused extensive crop loss, which authorities will try to mitigate by seeding clouds with chemicals to induce rainfall and spraying crops with an agent that minimizes evaporation. In Shanghai, officials saved energy by keeping lights off in the Bund, a waterfront area known for its iconic skyline, on Monday and Tuesday.

AFGHANISTAN: Several opposition militias have emerged out of grievances toward the Taliban. Thirty-three-year-old Mawlawi Mehdi Mujahid, a former Shiite commander in the predominantly Sunni Taliban, led hundreds of Shiite Muslims in a June uprising in the northern province of Sar-i-Pul, The New York Times reported last Thursday. As Taliban troops outnumbered and outgunned Mehdi’s ragtag group, the clashes ended in a bloody crackdown. The Taliban also killed Mehdi, said Taliban Ministry of Defense spokesman Inayatullah Khwarazmi.

Europe brief

The city center of Kraków, Poland, is usually bustling with wide-eyed tourists, children chasing pigeons, and a trumpeter who plays a tune every hour from the north tower of a 13th-century basilica. But on Monday, seven women and one man—all armed with notebooks—scattered across the square, hunting down stories even as rain started to fall. The participants of WORLD’s first-ever World Journalism Institute Europe spent part of their days inside a 1,000-year-old monastery hearing from WORLD writers and other instructors about Biblical objectivity and how to write stories with strong characters. Chiara Lamberti, one of the participants who came from Rome, told me she would be more intentional about tracking down the people affected by major headlines when writing stories. —Onize Ohikere in Kraków, Poland.

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