03/12/2024, 17.51
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Experts warn that centres are reopening in Cambodia after new arrests over online scams

Cambodian police detained hundreds of local and foreign nationals over the weekend. Despite a crackdown more than a year ago, online scams continue to flourish in Southeast Asia. Observers note that the recent repatriation of Chinese nationals from northern Myanmar has forced operators to move.

Phnom Penh (AsiaNews) – More arrests have been made in connection with online scam centres in Cambodia’s Sihanoukville province.

Over the weekend, the General Department of Immigration (GDI) announced that 205 foreign nationals and 279 Cambodian citizens were taken into custody.

The first operation took place at the former Paradis Island Casino with 172 foreigners detained, including 109 Vietnamese, 54 Thais, and nine Chinese. Of these, 167 will be deported, the GDI stated.

A second operation netted 279 Cambodians (mostly women) and 28 foreigners from China and Myanmar.

The two operations in Sihanoukville are part of the government's policy of shutting down illegal gambling centres so as to allow the development of the province’s tourist sector, said Sok Phal, chairman of the ministerial commission to combat cybercrime, at the press conference.

More than 3,000 illegal gambling sites have been raided in the last three months, the official said, and more than 10,000 people have been investigated.

Sihanoukville province is known for its tropical beaches but also for human trafficking and modern slavery, with people forced to work as online scammers at call centres to defraud foreign Internet users.

The problem involves several Southeast Asian countries, including the Philippines, Myanmar, and Thailand.

According to a report issued last year by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, at least 120,000 people are being held at online scam centres in Myanmar and another 100,000 in Cambodia.

Despite attempts by the Cambodian government to tackle the problem more than a year ago, online scams have not decreased, human rights groups report.

In fact, after the Cambodian government announced its operation in September 2022, many call centres simply relocated elsewhere in the country.

Other operators moved to Myanmar, where, due to the civil war that broke out in 2021, it is often easier to bring in foreigners and carry out online scams, said some victims who have been freed.

After brokering a ceasefire between ethnic militias and Myanmar’s regular army in Shan State, China tried to crack down on the activity in the border region and repatriate its citizens, who can be victims and perpetrators.

In recent months, several Chinese bosses involved in the online scam business have been arrested. However, some experts note that recent repatriations have simply driven the activity elsewhere in northern Myanmar on the border with Thailand, as well as to Laos and back to Cambodia.

“Reports from numerous sources on the ground in Sihanoukville confirm that the industry there is surging,” said Jacob Sims, senior technical adviser for the anti-trafficking organisation International Justice Mission.

Residents of Sihanoukville said that they saw the arrival of hundreds of foreigners, moved in large buses directly from the airport into previously abandoned call centres.

"It's a multibillion-dollar industry," Sims added, suggesting that the problem will not be easy to solve.

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Manila will repatriate 40,000 Chinese casino workers
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