Amid Ongoing Scam Raids, Sihanoukville Residents Recall Insecurity

4 min read
Map by Michael Dickison.

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday acknowledged foreign workers had been lured and trafficked to Cambodia amid ongoing police raids against criminal scam operations that have now reached Siem Reap.

Police actions are also continuing in Sihanoukville, where authorities have set up three units to investigate trafficking, and residents have spoken of the insecurity that surrounded some of the locked-down compounds while they operated.

“Do not let Cambodia become a haven of crime, a place of money laundering, a place of human trafficking,” Hun Sen said at a forum on human trafficking on Thursday.

In the past, Cambodians had been trafficked overseas to work on fishing boats or for sex, and now some criminals were persuading foreigners to come to work in Cambodia, luring them with the promise of high salaries but trafficking them once they arrived, Hun Sen said.

He added that cooperation between governments was needed to stamp out the crime.

“It does not only happen in the Asia region — it happens in all regions,” he said. “It has become a global issue that requires joint cooperation from one country to another country.”

Police have raided at least 11 facilities in Phnom Penh and removed nearly 2,000 foreign nationals from four Sihanoukville locations.

This week, Siem Reap provincial police also raided two buildings in the city for illegal detention and torture, arresting 24 Vietnamese nationals, said provincial police chief Teng Channath on Thursday.

“We’re continuing further investigations and can’t answer yet,” Channath said. “We’re questioning them now.”

Preah Sihanouk provincial spokesman Kheang Phearum said authorities’ actions were continuing in Sihanoukville.

“I can tell that even this evening and this hour, the provincial administration with the immigration department and the National Police’s [central] security department are operating on compound. We will announce further information,” he said late Wednesday. “This work, we will continue endlessly until we end the crimes.”

Phearum added that foreign nationals who were found at raided compounds were allowed to leave if their documents were in order; fined if they lacked work permits; sent to immigration centers if they didn’t have documentation; or questioned by authorities if suspected of being involved in crime.

“[If] they crossed the border illegally to come here to work, we will send them to immigration. When we find people that detained, or tortured or exploited [workers], we will send them to the relevant expert team,” Phearum said.

“For the victims who were cheated or suffered some other thing, we give them the option: They can go work in another place, or if they want to return to their homeland, we help find a solution for them,” he said, adding that the range of discovered crimes varied across compounds.

Based on authorities’ announcements, more than 600 people would have been sent to immigration centers.

The provincial administration on Thursday said it was establishing three working groups to investigate hotels, casinos and workers’ accommodations in Sihanoukville for labor and sex trafficking, illegal immigration, unlicensed businesses, detention, torture, forced labor, extortion, drugs and weapons.

Amid the authorities’ actions in Sihanoukville, several other compounds were last week seen to have emptied, including those that were removing the barbed wire fencing seen around most of the country’s scam compounds.

Some of the compounds where volunteer rescuers have previously attempted to remove workers and which were last week seen to have mostly emptied out include the notorious Kaibo compounds in the Chinatown area and the K99 compound linked to tycoon Rithy Raksmei. Those that appeared to be still operating last week include the Lixin casino, linked to Hun Sen’s nephew Hun To, and Victory Paradise.

Residents nearby recalled rumors of violence and criminality.

At a building across the street from Galaxy World — the site of one of the officially announced raids — buses took away 300-400 foreigners a few days before police arrived, said a food vendor. The woman said computers and other equipment had also been removed from the building.

“The buses came to pick them up at night, and some were dragging suitcases and belongings, and some took tuk-tuks and others ran very fast — it was shocking to see them leaving so suddenly,” the woman said.

The woman recalled hearing of trouble inside. “At this building, they often tried to escape. … Some of them fell, and we’ve heard that sometimes they were shocked and that three people had died. Last month one fell down and broke his leg.”

Around the notorious Kaibo complex, a security guard said he had worked to prevent escapes.

“Some people jumped from the building and ran to escape. … They jumped but we recaptured them and handed them to their bosses, and we don’t know what happened to them after that. The boss handled them,” the guard said. He recalled trying to lift one illegal worker who had lain prone after jumping from a building. “The building over there, they were often jumping. … Four of us nearly couldn’t carry him because he was too heavy.”

A vendor in front of White Sand 2 said the building had recently emptied out. There had been strict security around the compound for a long time, but now the barbed wire was removed, she said. “It’s like a ghost building.”

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