Sixteen Malaysian nationals were rescued from forced labor in Preah Sihanouk, as a political party said it knew of dozens more trapped in Cambodia.
Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said on Saturday that the 16 Malaysians were rescued and are now in Phnom Penh ahead of their repatriation, according to the New Straits Times.
A statement issued by Bukit Aman criminal investigation department director Abd Jalil Hassan added that all the victims — 15 men and one woman aged 19 to 43, all trapped in Preah Sihanouk — claimed they had been deceived by an advertisement offering jobs as customer service officers in Cambodia with travel costs taken care of, Free Malaysia Today reported.
“As soon as the victims arrived in Cambodia, their travel documents were seized, their movements were controlled and they were kept under tight security,” he said in the statement, according to Malay Mail.
They were “forced to work as scammers,” he added.
Cambodia has faced a barrage of reports of detained foreign workers in “slave compounds” being forced to perpetuate online scams across the world. Cambodian authorities have labeled the accounts as exaggerated.
The Malaysian Chinese Association, a political party in Malaysia, on Thursday made calls during a press conference to two captives allegedly still being held in Cambodia.
“We were told to scam our customers, and if we could not do that, we would be confined in a room without food for two or three days,” one of the victims said in the call, according to Malay Mail.
The victim did not give his name but said there were 13 Malaysians including five women aged 17 to 36 in the same area as him being forced to work as “scam operators,” Malay Mail reported.
Another victim said he was with a different group of about 50 Malaysians in Cambodia.
“We work more than 15 hours [daily] to cheat customers around the world. We must follow instructions or we will never know our fate,” the victim said in a call at the press conference.
The party’s public services and complaints department head Michael Chong said the victims had been tricked into going to Cambodia and were confined at their workplaces. Chong also said last week that the party was in touch with 10 forced-labor victims in Cambodia, and brought some of the victims’ parents to speak to journalists.
— Michael Dickison
Illegal Crossings Up
National Committee for Counter-Trafficking statistics for last year show a surge in cases, led by illegal border crossings.
The committee said in a report made public on Thursday that it had dealt with 359 cases last year, up from 155 in 2020. It broke down the statistics into two categories: The first was sexual exploitation, which rose from 111 to 124 cases, and involved 187 total victims in 2021, mostly women.
The second category was labeled human trafficking, with the bulk of cases falling under illegal border crossings. The number of cases in this second category rose from 44 cases in 2020 to 235 last year, involving 1,390 people, 43 percent of them women. Some 1,183 of those people were involved in illegal border crossings, the committee said.
The category also included five cases of buying child prostitution involving 12 people.
The total cases involved 14 foreigners from the U.S., France, China, Belgium and Bangladesh, the report said.
Amid the closure of borders last year due to Covid-19, many Cambodians attempted to cross back into the country from Thailand as factories and other workplaces were forced to suspend their operations.
— Keat Soriththeavy