Relatives of Indonesians trafficked to Cambodia speak of abuse, grueling work

Police rescued 62 who had been duped into working as cyber scammers, Indonesian Foreign Ministry says.
By Arie Firdaus for BenarNews
Relatives of Indonesians trafficked to Cambodia speak of abuse, grueling work In a screengrab from a public Zoom video call on Aug. 1, 2022, Migrant Care activist Anis Hidayah (right) shows images of injured and shackled workers who were among Indonesian employees allegedly abused and held against their will after being trafficked to Cambodia to work as cyber scammers.

Relatives of Indonesians who were trafficked to Cambodia to work for what officials described as fraudulent investment companies said their loved ones were tortured and forced to work long hours with no or little pay. 

On Saturday, Cambodian police rescued 62 Indonesian nationals after reports emerged that they were being held against their will after they were duped into working as cyber scammers in the seaside city of Sihanoukville, Indonesia’s foreign ministry said. 

The brother of an Indonesian worker who left for Cambodia in July said that at one point, his sibling was held captive for two days without being fed after he slept at work.

“[He] couldn’t take the workload, so he became sick,” said the man from North Sumatra province who asked to be identified by the initials Y.T. because of safety concerns.

He spoke out during an online news conference by Migrant Care, a labor advocacy group.

“He didn’t come to work and the next day he fell asleep at work, maybe because he was too tired because he had worked 16 hours a day. He was held captive for several days,” Y.T. said.

His younger brother, Y.T. said, was given only one meal on the third day, and his brother’s company telephoned Y.T. once to advise his sibling “to work seriously.”

And, according to an Indonesian who had worked in Cambodia before returning home in May with two other people, workers were beaten and given electric shocks if they failed to meet job targets.

“Their passports were also burned,” said the man who also requested anonymity.

“I still feel traumatized when I remember working there,” he told journalists at the news conference.

A woman from Central Java who also requested anonymity, and whose husband was among those held in Cambodia, said that he and a cousin were lured by offers of large salaries last month.

“It turns out things were different when he got there. I hope that the government will take action because he has not been rescued,” said the woman, adding that her husband was physically abused.

Y.T.’s brother and the woman’s husband were not among the 62 Indonesians rescued by Cambodian police over the weekend, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jakarta reported, according to Migrant Care.

In Cambodia, that country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond on Monday to a request for comment about the Indonesians rescued in Sihanoukville, nor did pro-government media mention it in their reporting.

Conditions ‘similar to slavery’

Last week, an official at the Indonesian Embassy in Cambodia, Teguh Adhi Primasanto, said victims were promised jobs as call-center officers, casino employees and office clerks, but were instead forced into working for online scam rings.

Once in Cambodia, workers often are subjected to debt bondage, excessive working hours, communication restrictions and violence, he alleged.

The latest case went public when a social media user asked the governor of Central Java province, Ganjar Pranowo, to take action in response to dozens of Indonesians confined in Cambodia.

Ganjar called on the provincial manpower department to investigate.

Meanwhile, Nur Harsono, who heads the legal aid department at Migrant Care, estimated that hundreds of Indonesians had been trafficked to Cambodia since last year.

“If we look at more than 100 people who returned home last year and those who have not been rescued so far, our estimate is that the number can be more than 200,” Harsono told BenarNews.

Migrant Care activist Anis Hidayah said companies in Cambodia recruited Indonesian workers by listing ads on Facebook looking for clerks and call-center officers and offering monthly salaries of U.S. $1,000 to $1,100 (14.8 million to 16.3 million rupiah).

But after they arrived in Cambodia, they were forced to work for online scam companies and received as little as $500 (7.4 million rupiah) a month or no pay at all.

In addition, workers faced hefty fines if they failed to meet targets or quit, she said.

“They were subjected to physical violence. The conditions are similar to slavery,” Anis said in a statement.

Foreign minister plans meeting

Retno Marsudi, Indonesia’s foreign minister, said she planned to discuss the issue of human trafficking in a meeting with Cambodian officials, including Cambodia’s police chief, on the sidelines of this week’s ASEAN Regional Forum in Phnom Penh.

“I have communicated the plan of my meeting to the Cambodian foreign minister so that it can be facilitated. And the Cambodian foreign minister has expressed his willingness to facilitate the meeting,” she told reporters on Sunday.

“Allow me to take this opportunity to express my deepest appreciation and gratitude to the Cambodian government and authorities for their cooperation and assistance in the rescue process,” Retno said.

The foreign minister also called on Indonesian law enforcement authorities to crack down on trafficking in persons by taking preventive measures. 

Indonesian police spokesman Ahmad Ramadhan said a criminal investigation would be launched, but he did not elaborate.

“We have to deal with this problem from and to the root. Strict law enforcement is needed against recruiters at home,” Retno said. “Public awareness about such frauds needs to be intensified and cross-border cooperation needs to be promoted.”

Additional reporting by RFA Khmer.

BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated news service.


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