US Report Red Flags Scam Operations, Widespread Trafficking and Forced Labor

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More than a dozen men crouch in the hull of a ship, which was carrying 38 Chinese and Cambodian nationals from China until stopped by authorities off the coast of Preah Sihanouk province, in a photo posted by Cambodia’s National Police on July 26, 2021.
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The U.S. State Department has pointed to mushrooming scam operations trafficking foreign nationals into Cambodia as well as other violations involving migrant workers as it downgraded Cambodia to the lowest level possible in its Trafficking In Persons annual report.

The report, released late Tuesday, places Cambodia at Tier 3, setting up the possibility for restrictions on foreign assistance, though this is not mandatory and is a political decision in the hands of the U.S. president. 

VOD has documented the trafficking, forced labor and torture of foreign nationals at scam operations across the country. The trafficked individuals are usually residents of China, Vietnam, Thailand, Taiwan and Malaysia, with a few reported cases from other Asian countries.

These reports have been backed up by other international media and NGOs who have also documented these abuses.

The U.S.’s TIP report makes small mention of the scam operations, while detailing existing labor rights violations and trafficking issues in the country, such as bonded labor at brick kilns, trafficking of potential brides overseas and abuses faced by migrant populations.

The report says there are credible reports of officials being complicit in the scam operations and calls for increased prosecution of errant authorities.

“NGOs alleged police and other officials were complicit in online scam operations that forced hundreds of PRC, Southeast Asian, and other foreign nationals to work in call centers in Sihanoukville and other locations,” reads the report.

The report calls for increased law enforcement efforts against online scam operations, “including allegations of forced labor, and against officials complicit in such operations and associated trafficking crimes.”

Cambodian police have rescued people forced to work at scam operations in a piecemeal manner — often at the insistence of the victim’s home country — but have largely denied any widespread issue, at times characterizing the detention of workers as labor disputes or disagreements over contracts.

Cambodia was on the U.S. report’s Tier 2 watchlist for the last three years. Countries that show no improvement are automatically downgraded to Tier 3 after two years on the watchlist, but Cambodia received a one-year extension in 2021. The report also states that “all of Cambodia’s 25 provinces are sources for human trafficking.”

Cambodia now joins China, Macau, Vietnam, Malaysia, Myanmar, North Korea, Brunei, Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan and 12 other states as Tier 3-listed countries.

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