Vietnam, Cambodia Launch Crackdown on Casino Human Trafficking

  • Vietnam’s response comes after growing incidences of forced labor in Cambodia
  • Families paid thousands of dollars to ransom their four teens back from a casino
  • Hundreds are getting lured from Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Taiwan, Indonesia
  • UN said many casinos have moved online and started fraud scams for extra cash flow
Vietnam's Ministy of Foreign Affairs
Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (pictured) has announced its authorities are working with Cambodian counterparts to combat the rise in casino human trafficking. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Joint operation

Less than two weeks have passed since 40 Vietnamese workers completed a dramatic river-crossing escape from forced labor at a Cambodian casino. Now, authorities from the two bordering Asian countries have announced they’re working together to combat the rise in human trafficking.

Vietnamese citizens duped into working in dubious establishments

The spokeswoman for Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Le Thi Thu Hang, revealed the collaboration on Thursday during a press meeting. She made the statement in response to increased attention over growing incidences of forced labor. The Ministry’s main focus is Vietnamese citizens duped into working in dubious establishments in Cambodia.

Hang said her ministry had “directed its representatives in Cambodia to work closely with Cambodian authorities and Vietnamese domestic authorities […] to assess and verify information, implement citizen protection measures, and provide assistance for citizens in need in a timely manner.”

In a harrowing account published on Sunday by online newspaper VnExpress, Cambodian casino owners forced four families from the Vietnamese seaport city of Hai Phong to pay thousands of dollars in ransom for their four teenagers. They were supposedly tricked by an acquaintance to work in the casinos under forced labor conditions.

Bringing home the victims

Hang added that Vietnamese and Cambodian representatives and authorities will work together to “step up consular and citizen protection efforts, and bring home Vietnamese nationals […] scammed by illegal brokers to work in Cambodia.”

The viral video post by VnExpress of the mass river escape — in which one teenager drowned in the Binh Di — has added a global exclamation point to the sophisticated human trafficking scams. They are luring hundreds of victims to Cambodia and Myanmar (Burma) from other South East Asia countries including Thailand, Malaysia, Taiwan, Indonesia and, of course, Vietnam.

Cambodian police arrested the casino’s manager

Vietnamese police have since identified four human trafficking rings involved in the casino in Cambodia’s Kandal Province where the 40 escaped from. According to the Express, Cambodian police arrested the casino’s manager, an unnamed Chinese national, who confessed to forced labor practices.

Hang said last week that Cambodian authorities had also handled procedures for 25 other Vietnamese, duped into forced labor in Cambodia, to get repatriated.

Chinese export?

According to some experts, sophisticated Chinese crime syndicates are behind human trafficking operations in Cambodia. While the public in China are savvier to such scams, for many outside its borders the promise of paying jobs is too good to pass up, no matter how fishy.

The regional representative for South East Asia and the Pacific at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Jeremy Douglas, told The Straits Times: “Regional governments and police are way behind on this.”

“The pandemic massively accelerated the move of casinos online as they sought to make up for lost revenues, and we know of many around the region that then did a pivot into fraud scams for additional cash flow. And law enforcement did not see it coming,” Douglas said.