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Finding new nests: Sihanoukville crackdowns forcing human trafficking rings to relocate – Khmer Times (Cambodia)

Crackdowns on human trafficking involving job scams in Preah Sihanouk province are proving to be so successful that criminal syndicates are forced to move out and find new provinces to relocate.

Of late, Pursat province has come into the spotlight with Interior Minister Sar Kheng expressing his concern that it is becoming a new hotspot for such criminal activities.

Long Dimanche, Preah Sihanouk Provincial Deputy Governor, said yesterday that the crackdowns in the province, mostly in Sihanoukville, have produced huge success, resulting in the closing down of all scamming operations in its territory.

“All cases have been closed,” he said. “The situation in Sihanoukville has returned to normal, and what remains today are legitimate businesses. However, if we are informed of even a single case, we will immediately take action.”

The modus operandi of such crimes involve the scammers disguising themselves as private companies operating services in investment zones.

They dupe their victims from outside of Cambodia through online advertisements promising lucrative jobs. When the victims arrive, they end up being forced to work in illegal operations such as online gambling.

Interior Minister Sar Kheng at the event on Monday where he fired off the warning that Pursat province might become a crime hotspot. Sar Kheng

The scams, usually lead to abduction and extortion, initially involved only Chinese nationals and Cambodians but later expanded to include those from other countries  from Malaysia to the US.

Khmer Times’ earlier investigation found that almost all cases occurred in Sihanoukville which is popular among Chinese investors and visitors.

In July this year, Cambodia was downgraded from Tier 2 to Tier 3 of the US Blacklist on Human Trafficking according to the 2022 Report by the US Embassy in Cambodia, which also claimed that the Cambodian government does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so.

Because of this, the Ministry of Interior beefed up its effort on cracking down on human trafficking in Sihanoukville. According to the police, 84 people have been arrested for their involvement in human trafficking, including 62 Chinese, nine Vietnamese and 13 Cambodian between August and October this year.

Chou Bun Eng, vice-chairwoman of the National Committee for Counter Trafficking, said yesterday that the scammers who managed to escape the arrest attempts are moving their operations to other part of the country.

She added while the crackdowns are resulting in a number of arrests, leaked information has allowed the criminals to escape the raids and later move their groups to other parts of the country.

“For now, we continue to work as a single task force, formed through cooperation between the Ministry of Interior, The Ministry of Labour and the prosecutor, and we get into the field and conduct checks in suspicious locations,” she said. “We will also spread our investigations to other provinces and make sure that these offenders will not escape from the law.”

Speaking at a ministry event on Monday, Kheng said that the complaints, filed digitally, initially show that the criminals are shifting their operations to other provinces along the Cambodian-Thai border, especially in Thmor Da Special Economic Zone in Pursat province’s Veal Veng district.

“The overall number of complaints I have received on my Facebook page as well as the Facebook page of the National Police of Cambodia and The Immigration Department of Cambodia has been over 600,” he said.

“Many of those took place in Pursat. Something like this did not happen before but they (the scammers) have moved from Sihanoukville to Thmor Da Zone after we intensified our effort in cracking down on them in Preah Sihanouk.”

Kheng ordered the authorities to handle the problems before it was “too late”.

“The authorities in Thmor Da zone must start cracking down on them now to prevent them from building their nests in this area just like in Sihanoukville where we saw gang violence everyday although the city was highly promoted by the government as an investment hub,” he said. “Eventually, to our regret, it became a city full of crimes and human trafficking.”

Kheng added that combatting this form of human trafficking would be “a walk in the park” if corrupt officials who collude with the criminals are not in the operations. However, he also admitted that the police did not do enough and this allowed for the shift of the criminal activities.

Authorities check a detained foreigner during a raid in Sihanoukville. GDI

“There need to be a strong cooperation among stakeholders to address this problem,” Kheng added.

Major General Sar Theng, Pursat Provincial Police Chief, could not be reached for comment on the issue.

Khoy Rida, the newly appointed governor of Pursat province, said yesterday that so far no case has been reported to him.

“Since I have just been appointed, I don’t have the data in my hand at the moment,” he said.

“But, Samdech (Sar Kheng)’s warning is the right thing because he was worried that the traffickers will build their nest in Pursat. We will order our authorities to be extra cautious to prevent any form of anarchy in our province.”

Meanwhile, Major General Sith Los, Banteay Meanchey Provincial Police Chief, said yesterday there have been cases of some foreigners fleeing from Preah Sihanouk to Banteay Meanchey, but they were later identified to be illegal immigrants, not victims of trafficking.

“We have found four or five of them, including Chinese and Vietnamese, and we are now preparing for their deportation,” he said. “We will not be worried if there are criminals coming here from Sihanoukville because we are prepared to hunt them.”

Major General Sath Kimsan, police chief of Battambang, another province along the Thai border, claimed that so far no such cases have been reported in his province.

Moeun Tola, executive director of the Center for Alliance of Labour and Human Rights (Central), said yesterday that while he recognises the efforts of the authorities in combating human traffickers, he noticed that many scammers, especially the Chinese, are still at large.

“Based on the victims’ accounts of the stories, the authorities’ interventions to rescue them are quite limited,” he said. “In many cases, they (the authorities) do not recognise them as victims but instead see them as pretending to be ones because of their disputes with their employers.”

“If such occurrences still continue, we will not be able to capture the ringleaders, and the crimes will continue to spread all over the country.”

 

EYES ON TRAFFICKING

This “Eyes on Trafficking” story is reprinted from its original online location.

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PBJ Learning is a leading provider of online human trafficking training, focusing on and prevention education. Their interactive Human Trafficking Essentials is used worldwide to educate professionals and individuals how to recognize human trafficking and how to respond to potential victims. Learn on any web browser (even your mobile phone) at any time.

More stories like this can be found in your PBJ Learning Knowledge Vault.

 

EYES ON TRAFFICKING

This “Eyes on Trafficking” story is reprinted from its original online location.

ABOUT PBJ LEARNING

PBJ Learning is a leading provider of online human trafficking training, focusing on awareness and prevention education. Their interactive Human Trafficking Essentials online course is used worldwide to educate professionals and individuals how to recognize human trafficking and how to respond to potential victims. Learn on any web browser (even your mobile phone) at any time.

More stories like this can be found in your PBJ Learning Knowledge Vault.