Bavet Compound Workers Flee Country Through River, Rice Fields

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Workers compounds in Svay Rieng’s Bavet city on October 7, 2022. (Michael Dickison/VOD)
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Hundreds of foreign workers who were set free from Svay Rieng casinos have fled the country into Vietnam via rice fields and across a stream, local police said on Thursday.

This week, immigration police raided Bavet’s notorious Moc Bai casino compound as the border city saw a mass exodus of foreign workers.

Following many months of hundreds of foreign nationals calling out for help from compounds across the country where they said they were trapped and forced to perpetrate global online scams, police began to take action against scam compounds, releasing thousands of workers mainly from Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh.

As raids struck other parts of the country, Bavet’s casinos had earlier been seen taking in buses full of foreign nationals.

Svay Rieng provincial labor department director Ou Sokhoeun said on Thursday that the national immigration and labor departments had on Wednesday begun an inspection of the Moc Bai compounds, a large area with around 30 buildings behind a casino of the same name.

“We haven’t finished yet. It will take one more day,” Sokhoeun said, noting cooperation with immigration police. “We are just inspecting to see how many foreigners each company has, and whether they have certificates and how many have work permits. … It is not a strange thing.”

Despite Sokhoeun saying the inspection was normal, in the days prior to the inspection crowds streamed out of the compounds, some throwing rocks at buses that were trying to move out workers.

Bavet city police chief Em Sovannarith said hundreds of people had come out of the casino compounds, many of them crossing into Vietnam through rice fields and across a stream rather than the official border gate.

“We have seen them. They returned to their homeland,” Sovannarith said. “They don’t go [through the border gate] because they will be fined because they do not have passports and can be fined 6 million dong [about $240], and they don’t have money.”

He said he did not know exactly how many had left because “we have not counted them.”

“The companies have allowed them to leave freely,” he said, noting that some had been in the compounds since the pandemic period.Now the casino companies allow their staff who want to go home to go home freely, and the ones who want to stay, it is up to them.”

A local tuk-tuk driver, who declined to be named due to safety fears, said he had seen many foreign nationals pouring out of Moc Bai to the border all week, some running, some walking and others driving.

He added it appeared to be quieter on Thursday and estimated there had been thousands of fleeing workers in total over the last few days.

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