Authorities have rescued 75 foreign nationals from a border town in Oddar Meanchey province following raids against online scam operations in Sihanoukville, Phnom Penh and elsewhere — though a local police official argued the work being done with forced labor was “normal.”
Thousands of foreign nationals have been removed from scam compounds across the country in response to calls for rescue from workers trapped there. Many of the workers have spoken of threats and violence as they were forced to perpetrate massive global scams.
Chuon Suor, deputy Oddar Meanchey police chief, said on Wednesday that authorities had raided one site on a hill in O’Smach, at the border with Thailand, and removed 75 foreign nationals, mostly Vietnamese. The raid happened on Saturday.
The plea for rescue had come through a police hotline, he said. Rescues have increased since Interior Minister Sar Kheng began to take calls for rescue through his Facebook page. Previously, human trafficking victims had posted desperate pleas to the pages of Prime Minister Hun Sen and Preah Sihanouk governor Kuoch Chamroeun.
Suor would not say how long the foreign nationals had been in O’Smach, but said they were now sent to Siem Reap to be deported.
Asked whether the raided location was a casino, he said: “Sometimes they rented a building and sometimes they were involved inside one. They worked normal [jobs] and it is nothing.”
One local police official agreed to give further details on condition of anonymity, saying he would be reprimanded if he spoke publicly. The official said there had been repeated rescues of foreign nationals — far more than the 75 removed in the latest raid. Two locations in particular were problematic, the official said, naming Royal Hill Resort and O’Smach Resort as potentially housing thousands of foreign workers.
O’Smach Resort is a licensed casino with the Commerce Ministry under the L.Y.P. Group — directed by Senator Ly Yong Phat’s family — and Royal Hill licensed under the Lim Heng Group.
Neither Yong Phat nor Heng could be reached on several phone numbers on Wednesday, though a person who answered a number for Heng and another for Yong Phat’s assistant hung up when told it was a reporter calling.
Chou Bun Eng, permanent vice-chair of the National Committee for Combating Human Trafficking, could not be reached on Wednesday but told local news outlet Tnaut that the recent raid was at “O’Smach Casino” and the 75 foreign nationals from Vietnam, China, India, Malaysia and Indonesia.