Parents face long, agonising wait for see children, tricked by scam syndicates

HANOI: As reports emerge of more Vietnamese being tricked into working for scam syndicates in Cambodia, many parents face a long agonising wait to see their children again.

Hoping that Vietnamese and Cambodian authorities would rescue their trafficked children, some have even mortgaged their houses to raise enough money to pay “ransoms” to secure their release.

Vietnamese daily Vn Express spoke to one of the parents – Tran Thi Nhung and her husband Phan Van Hanh – from Tay Hoa District in the south-central province of Phu Yen.

The couple eagerly wait daily for their son to phone them as the 26-year-old Phan Van Duc has managed to call them occasionally to report on his situation and plead for help.

The last time he called, Duc said he had been severely beaten, had breathing difficulty and was vomiting. He also told his parents that he was forced to work until 3 am every day.

The Vn Express report said Duc’s situation was similar to thousands of other vulnerable young Vietnamese who had been tricked and trafficked to Cambodia to work for criminal gangs.

To secure his release, the family was told to pay a ransom of VND240 million (US$10,190) and they even sent the family a photo of him being beaten.

When Nhung first saw an image of her son being beaten, she suffered from a heart attack and had to be hospitalised. Later, they borrowed money and even mortgaged their small house, hoping to rescue him eventually.

Nhung has also reported her son’s case to the Phu Yen police, who said they were working with Cambodian authorities on the issue.

According to Phu Yen police, 11 people from the province have been trafficked into Cambodia since the beginning of the year. All are young victims and come from poor families.

They are often targeted through social media, with promises of easy job and easy money, only to find themselves being detained, forced to work long hours and sold among illegal groups that carried out fraudulent online gambling and crypto trading.

Of the 11, Phu Yen police have so far managed to rescue seven.

In July, Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security had issued a warning about the trafficking of Vietnamese workers aged 18 to 35 to Cambodia.

The ministry said victims were also promised they would be released or paid bonuses if they find, trick and bring more Vietnamese to Cambodia.

The Vn Express report said these criminal gangs were based along Cambodia’s borders such as Bavet City in Svayrieng Province and Chrey Thum City in Kandal Province in the southeast, Poipet City in Banteay Meanchey Province and Sihanoukville City in Preah Sihanouk Province in the west bordering Thailand and the capital Phnom Penh.

Since 2017, these areas have seen casinos mushrooming and it became a lucrative industry worth billions of dollars, especially through online gambling.

They have generated hundreds of thousands of jobs and increasingly attracted investors, who have come to build not just casinos, but also related facilities such as hotels, resorts, restaurants, bars, shopping malls, and apartments.

However, along with the economic development came criminal activities such as money laundering, online financial fraud, prostitution, drug dealing, human trafficking, and workers’ exploitation.

When the pandemic severely affected these businesses, it caused a spike in illegal activities to compensate for the fall in legitimate revenues.

Crimes related to casinos have become so serious that it prompted Chinese authorities to work with their Southeast Asian counterparts to crack down on them and have also made online gambling illegal. Cambodia banned it in August 2019.

Despite these, online frauds and the related human trafficking have continued.

Earlier this year, nine countries offered to work with Cambodia to combat human trafficking. They are Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Thailand, and the Philippines.

Cambodia and Vietnam have been collaborating for years to combat human trafficking under a bilateral agreement.

Colonel Khong Ngoc Oanh from the Public Security Ministry’s Criminal Police Department recently said that many trafficking groups operated deep inside Cambodian forests under the guise of being legitimate companies.

He said authorities find it hard to track down young migrant workers who fall into the clutches of criminal gangs as many do not inform their families about their plans.

Cambodia’s Khmer Times had also reported that a great deal of verification was needed to separate victims from accomplices. It said Cambodian authorities also needed their foreign counterparts to crack down on local job recruiters who trafficked people to Cambodia.

The human trafficking issue burst into the national limelight in Vietnam when on Aug 18, 42 people who had been sold to a Cambodian casino in Kandal Province, escaped by jumping into the Binh Di River and swam across to Vietnam.

Forty made it across, one drowned and one was recaptured. Vietnamese and Cambodian police later busted four trafficking gangs involved in the case and also arrested the casino’s Chinese manager.

Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Sar Kheng had said authorities have so far investigated 87 cases of human trafficking, tried 17 cases involving a total of 60 people, and rescued 865 foreigners.