Posted on: Nov 18, 2021, 2:52 a.m.

Last update on: November 18, 2021, 3:46 a.m.

Some 60 Thai workers allegedly trafficked and bought out by an online gaming company in Cambodia were repatriated to their home country on Monday.

traffic in cambodia
The booming gambling town of Poipet, on Cambodia’s border with Thailand, where three Thai workers were reportedly held hostage before being rescued two weeks ago. (Image: Pinterest)

According to Bangkok Post, the victims were tricked into working for the illegal operation after responding to bogus job offers in Sihanoukville, a booming city of casinos on Cambodia’s west coast.

Once there, they were kept under “slave” conditions. Those who refused to comply were beaten and threatened with being sold as slaves. They were rescued after their captors demanded a ransom from their relatives, who were able to inform the Thai authorities.

The post office reports that appeals from relatives were amplified through social media and reached the ears of Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. He ordered the Royal Thai Police to cooperate with the Cambodian authorities to intervene.

Authorities arrested four Chinese, four Cambodians and two Thai suspects at the scene.

Three others rescued

Two weeks earlier, three Thai women were rescued from an underground online gambling operation under similar circumstances, the post office noted. The women, identified only as Jenjira, Pornnapa and Sasinipa, were being held by an online gambling operation in Poipet, another booming Cambodian town on the Thai border.

Police said the women were being held by their Chinese employer who demanded a ransom of 10,000 baht each (about $ 306) for their release. This is about half of the average monthly salary in Thailand. The man threatened to sell the women to a call center gang in China if the ransom was not paid.

The women have been in quarantine for two weeks due to coronavirus travel restrictions, but are now at home and being questioned by police.

These are just the latest of many reports from Cambodia on human trafficking linked to the country’s illegal gambling industry, much of which is believed to be controlled by Chinese triads.

A study released in September by the Thompson Reuters Foundation found that foreign workers and tourists stranded in Cambodia because of the pandemic have become easy prey for these gangs. The country’s land borders are closed and departing flights are infrequent.

Traffickers on the move?

Most of the reports relate to operations based in Sihanoukville, which has become a gambling mecca for Chinese tourists in recent years. But there are also signs that trafficking gangs are on the move.

Khmer weather reports that many operators have moved north, to Koh Kong and other provinces due to “rising costs” of doing business in Sihanoukville. Others have left Cambodia entirely, to countries like Liberia, the Philippines and Indonesia, where they can find “better margins”.

Cambodia banned online gambling from September 2019, yielding to pressure from its largest trading partner, China. This makes it difficult for illegal operators to find cheap labor legally, which may partly explain the rise in trafficking and also the gradual exodus of the gangs that control it from Cambodia.

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