Cambodian gov’t spokesman says 360 Indians freed from cyberscam rings

Indians being kept in a suspected fraud compound in Sihanoukville protested earlier this week.
By RFA Khmer
2024.05.23
Cambodian gov’t spokesman says 360 Indians freed from cyberscam rings The first group of Indian nationals rescued from the cyberscam operations in Cambodia return home in this image posted to social media May 23, 2024.
Embassy of India in Phnom Penh via X

The Cambodian government and the Indian Embassy in Phnom Penh have worked to free 360 Indian citizens who were tricked into working at cyberscam operations in the seaside city of Sihanoukville, a Cambodian government spokesman told Radio Free Asia on Thursday.

Indian Ambassador Devyani Khobragade and Minister of Interior Sar Sokha have met many times over the last few weeks to rescue the Indians from the operations, Interior Ministry spokesman Touch Sokhak said.

All of the 360 victims have been sent back to India in recent weeks, he said.

ENG_KHM_TRAFFICKED INDIANS_05232024.2.jpg
Barbed wire fences are seen outside a shuttered Great Wall Park compound where Cambodian authorities said they had recovered evidence of human trafficking, kidnapping and torture during raids on suspected cybercrime compounds in the coastal city of Sihanoukville, Cambodia Sept. 21, 2022. (Cindy Liu/Reuters)

Another 60 Indians who are still stuck in Cambodia are expected to be sent back to India in the coming weeks, according to Rajesh Kumar, the CEO of the Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre.

The victims were lured to Cambodia through job offers, Kumar told the Hindustan Times.

But once they arrived in Cambodia, their passports were confiscated and they were forced to use Telegram, WhatsApp, Facebook and other platforms and fake apps to try to scam people in India, he said.

Earlier this week, Indians working in a suspected scam compound in Sihanoukville protested against their employers, according to The Hindu.

A United Nations report last year estimated that some 100,000 people in Cambodia have been trafficked and imprisoned by crime rings who force them through torture and threats to carry out online scams. Most of them involve convincing people to invest in bogus investments.

ENG_KHM_TRAFFICKED INDIANS_05232024.3.jpg
In this photo released by the Taiwan Criminal Investigation Bureau, police officers from the Taiwan Criminal Investigation Bureau search the bodies of two suspects who were deported from Bangkok and believed to be involved in scam cases in Cambodia as they arrive back at the Taoyuan International Airport in Taiwan on Aug. 18, 2022. (Taiwan Criminal Investigation Bureau via AP)

Many of the online scams are being run out of Sihanoukville, which over the last decade has become a city of Chinese casinos under the influence of Chinese tycoons. The Interior Ministry announced a campaign to confront online scams in August 2022.

Lured into a trap

An Indian Embassy advisory warned Indian nationals that they should only work with authorized agents to find work in Cambodia, and shouldn’t look for jobs after entering the country on a tourist visa.

“It has come to attention that Indian nationals, lured by fake promises of lucrative job opportunities in Cambodia, are falling into the trap of human traffickers,” the advisory posted on the embassy’s website said. “These Indian nationals are coerced to undertake online financial scams and other illegal activities.”

RFA was unable to contact the Indian Embassy for further comment. 

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Malaysian youths rescued from human traffickers in Cambodia arrive at the Kuala Lumpur Airport Terminal in Sepang on Oct. 6, 2022. (Vincent Thian/AP)

The 2023 U.S. Trafficking in Persons report said that “forced criminality in cyber scam operations” has become a multi-billion industry. 

“Rather than fulfilling their advertised employment promises, many of these companies began forcing the recruits to run internet scams directed at international targets and subjecting them to a wide range of abuses and violations,” the report said, noting it is becoming a global problem, particularly in remote areas and border towns.

Touch Sokhak said that Cambodia has been a victim of the recent regional growth in cyberscams, and India has promised training and equipment to combat the crimes.

“Online scams are an international trend,” he said. “We can say that Cambodia is a victim country and we are willing to eliminate it.”

“It’s just that with this process, we need to investigate closely to identify the targets or locations of the perpetrators,” he said. “Perpetrators are working to prevent us from investigating them.”  

Translated by Yun Samean. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.

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