Officials introduced new plans to combat human trafficking in response to the U.S.’s decision to drop Cambodia to the lowest ranking in anti-trafficking efforts, in a meeting chaired by Interior Minister Sar Kheng.
During the meeting on Tuesday afternoon, the General Department of Immigration’s director general Kieth Chantharith read out points of a draft action plan to fight all forms of human trafficking, according to a post from the Interior Ministry website.
He said that the plan was aimed at Cambodians, particularly women and children, who are vulnerable to any form of sex trafficking or labor trafficking, “as well as foreigners living in the Kingdom of Cambodia,” Chantharith said.
“Do not fall into the trap of modern slavery.”
The meeting included a range of ministries and government institutions, including provincial and capital governors as well as leaders in the National Military Police, Cambodian Human Rights Committee and National Police Commission.
Chantharith said the department was collaborating with the National Committee for Combatting Human Trafficking, chaired by Kheng, to set out a plan of principles and measures to take in order to respond to and prevent trafficking. He also applauded Cambodia’s efforts to crack down on trafficking cases and raise awareness to prevent people from being trafficked, and integrating survivors back into communities.
However, the announcement included no detail of what steps the plan would take in prevention or enforcement.
Immigration department spokesperson Keo Vanthan said that now that the national action plan was approved, the Interior Minister appointed National Police head Neth Savoeun as chair of a smaller committee to implement measures within the plan.
According to a post about Tuesday’s signing on the Interior Ministry’s Facebook page, the action plan is important to protect human rights.
“In this work, the team works with high responsibility and will gradually get results, despite some problems,” Kheng said, according to the post.
The post also said human trafficking was also related to prevent sale of weapons of mass destructions – an apparent reference to the Financial Action Task Force, which has put Cambodia on a watchlist for anti-money laundering and terrorism financing since 2019. Cambodia also faces a deadline for improving its graylist ranking in October.
Last month, the U.S. downgraded Cambodia to the “Tier 3” list in its annual Trafficking in Persons report, citing continuous labor and sex trafficking of Cambodian citizens as well as rising reports of foreigners being trafficked into the country to work in online fraud and gambling operations.
Dozens of foreign workers from countries in Southeast and East Asia have said they were sold into businesses in Cambodia, where they were detained, sometimes tortured, and often forced to pay ransom in order to escape.
High-ranking officials initially questioned the U.S. decision to downgrade Cambodia, but later Kheng proposed a nationwide search of foreigners’ residences in order to crack down on trafficking.