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Indonesia and Cambodia will create a memorandum of understanding between the countries’ police departments to handle human trafficking cases. Photo: Shutterstock

Indonesia and Cambodia crack down on ‘aggressive’ Chinese-run job scams as more victims emerge

  • Jakarta and Phnom Penh to enhance cooperation between police departments, speed up handling of human trafficking cases
  • Indonesian authorities to tighten supervision of migrant workers at border checkpoints, educate public about lawful migration
Indonesia will boost police cooperation with Cambodia to prevent more Indonesians from falling victim to bogus job offers, as employment scams across Southeast Asia continue to ensnare young victims from various places, including Hong Kong.

In cases that have been reported in countries like Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos and Thailand, victims are forced to work long hours running online scams, and are held against their will by employers that sometimes sell these workers to another criminal enterprise. The migrants are usually drawn in by the false promise of high salaries in US dollars, but in reality get paid little or not at all.

“It is so easy for recruiters these days to lure workers,” said Bobi Anwar Maarif, general secretary at the Indonesian Migrant Workers Union. “They could just become members of job vacancy-related groups on social media, such as Facebook, with hundreds of thousands of jobseekers, and publish their vacancies there.”

The Chinese scam gangs of Cambodia forcing desperate young Asians into crime

Indonesian victims were employed as online scammers for fraudulent investment companies or online gambling websites. Their passports were seized by their employers, who had to pay the commission for the recruiters that lured these workers.

Victims have also come from Hong Kong, with authorities there receiving at least 43 requests for help in connection with human trafficking scams since January. Among the victims, 28 have been confirmed to be safe, with 23 having returned to Hong Kong. The remaining victims are either in Myanmar or Cambodia.

Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi on Thursday said Indonesian and Cambodian authorities had agreed to work more closely together, including by “exchanging contacts of each other’s police departments to make it easier to handle [the case] if similar accidents happen again”.

Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi. Photo: Reuters

In total, 446 Indonesians fell victims to the scams from January to August 2022, a sharp increase from a total of 119 last year, Retno said. All the victims were rescued and repatriated, including 225 Indonesians held captive in the seaside town of Sihanoukville. All the victims used tourist visas, instead of work visas, to work in Cambodia.

Retno also said she held talks with Cambodia’s police chief, General Neth Savouen, in Phnom Penh on August 2, after she met 62 Indonesians who were tricked into working as online scammers in phoney investment companies. She and Neth Savouen agreed to launch a joint investigation, appoint contact persons to speed up law enforcement in future scam cases, and create a memorandum of understanding between the countries’ police departments to handle human trafficking cases.

Retno also met her Cambodian counterpart at the end of July to discuss the crimes, she said. “But this case doesn’t only happen in Cambodia, it also happens in Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and the Philippines. Recruitment of Indonesians and their illegal departure is still happening to this day,” she said.

Another Hongkonger returns home after being caught up in forced labour scam

On August 23, Indonesian Migrant Workers Protection Agency thwarted the departure of 645 migrant workers to Sihanoukville using a chartered jet from North Sumatra and Jakarta. The victims came from various places including Jakarta, Java, Kalimantan and Sumatra islands.

The foreign ministry now plans to tighten the supervision of migrant workers at the border and exit points of international ports and airports. It also intends to educate the public about lawful migration, including disseminating information about correct procedures of becoming a migrant worker overseas.

A building in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, known to house online gambling and scamming operations. Photo: Cindy Liu

‘Mainland Chinese employers’

Bobi of the migrant workers union urged authorities to create an information system listing legitimate vacancies overseas, to stop recruiters from baiting victims on social media.

“The government should intervene in this brokering practice through technology, by providing valid information about job vacancies overseas. Otherwise, this practice will keep occurring,” Bobi said.

The union had received at least 119 reports about migrant workers who fell victim to fake job offers in Cambodia since 2020, he said, adding that the recruiters operate “aggressively” in Indonesia.

The victims paid the recruiters an average of 30 million rupiah (US$2,013) to get the jobs in Cambodia, after being told they would receive up to 12 million rupiah per month working in casinos there, Bobi said.

“In reality they were only paid 5 million rupiah per month, but they had to pay their own expenses, including the expensive apartment rent,” he said.

Hong Kong man scammed twice with bogus job offers abroad, lawmaker says

According to reports filed to the union, these workers were forced to work up to 19 hours a day and were being deprived of health insurance. Some fell sick “due to constant staring at the computers”, but they could not take sick days as their salaries could be cut, he said.

“Most of the employers came from mainland China, so they’re not Cambodians. They would later give each worker a computer so they could offer phoney investments to friends, families, or anyone that they know,” he added.

If the employees did not meet recruitment targets, they would face beatings and the risk of being sold to another criminal crew.