Cambodia Crackdown Frees Thousands Of Enslaved Online Staff

September 30, 2022
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Thousands of captive workers in Cambodia have been released from online gaming and other illegal operations by police in just weeks, as the government finally begins to sweep underground gaming hubs around the nation.

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Thousands of captive workers in Cambodia have been released from online gaming and other illegal operations by police in just weeks, as the government finally begins to sweep underground gaming hubs around the nation.

After years of denial and counter-accusations by police and government spokespeople, Cambodia has begun the largest operation to date to rescue mostly foreign workers who are deceived into working for online gaming companies and other groups and then abused, traded and even tortured.

Raids in Phnom Penh, gaming hub Sihanoukville, border casino towns and elsewhere have netted well over 4,000 foreigners, most of whom appear to have been trapped inside gated, guarded compounds that have functioned with impunity since the banning of offshore-facing online gambling operations at the end of 2019.

In Sihanoukville, raids on four ethnic Chinese-owned compounds in recent days resulted in the release of 1,975 individuals, almost all of whom were foreign nationals, according to data compiled by the independent VOD online media group.

The largest of the four compounds, run by the Pao Yong Technology Group, saw 597 foreigners released, with the other four releasing between 400 and 500 staff each.

The bulk of the workers have been identified as Chinese nationals, but other victims have come from across Asia, particularly Vietnam but also Thailand, India, Indonesia, Taiwan and Malaysia, among other Southeast and South Asian nations.

At the Jincai compound on the northern outskirts of Sihanoukville, two Russian nationals were released.

Two weeks after ordering the move against online syndicates, Prime Minister Hun Sen acknowledged the existence of the compounds during a human trafficking forum on Thursday (September 29).

But his comments downplayed the unique volume and spread of the problem throughout Cambodia, as well as its origins in his ban on an online gambling sector that flourished for years as massive Chinese migration into Sihanoukville transformed the local economy, business practices and social demographics.

“Do not let Cambodia become a haven of crime, a place of money laundering, a place of human trafficking,” he told the forum.

“It does not only happen in the Asia region. It happens in all regions.

“It has become a global issue that requires joint cooperation from one country to another country,” he said.

Hun Sen's crackdown follows years of complaints from foreign governments over the enslaving of their nationals in online gaming and other activity, particularly China, whose embassy has issued repeated warnings to Chinese migrant labour to disregard local promises of large salaries.

In the capital Phnom Penh, Hun Sen said police have cracked down on 1,000 illegal gambling locations, while in surrounding Kandal Province, another 700 locations have been raided.

Land-based casinos remain legal in Cambodia, but the latest crackdown on illegal online operations may force operators to look elsewhere for a more stable environment.

The government of Laos recently opened a potential window for such operators, allowing a private company to begin issuing online gambling licences three months ago.

The scheme has annoyed neighbouring Thailand, whose police have flagged a diplomatic complaint to Vientiane over the initiative.

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