Lao police rescue 7 Cambodian trafficking victims

The women had been lured by traffickers to work in the murky Golden Triangle zone.
By RFA Lao
2023.10.04
Lao police rescue 7 Cambodian trafficking victims A casino operated by the Kings Romans Group is seen in the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone on the banks of the Mekong River in Laos near the border between Laos, Myanmar and Thailand, March 2, 2016.
Jorge Silva/Reuters

Police in Laos have rescued seven Cambodian women who were tricked into taking jobs as scammers in a Chinese-controlled special economic zone that has become a haven for criminal activity, RFA has learned.

The Cambodian Embassy in Vientiane became aware of the seven women on Sept. 30, after they posted a video on social media saying that they had been lured by traffickers to come work in the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone in northwestern Laos’ Bokeo province.

They said their employers wanted to send them to work in a third country, and they did not want to go. So they escaped and were in hiding, but they were still in need of help from the Lao and Cambodian authorities to return to their home country.

Trafficking is a major problem in the special economic zone, a gambling and tourism hub catering to Chinese citizens situated in Bokeo province along the Mekong River where Laos, Myanmar and Thailand meet. It has been described as a de-facto Chinese colony.

Workers in the zone have told RFA that Lao authorities seem powerless to stop criminal activity, including prostitution, scamming and drug trafficking.  

After Cambodian consular officials alerted Lao authorities, the police rescued six of the women on Oct. 1. The seventh had become ill and had to remain in hiding, but she was rescued later.

RFA contacted public safety unit personnel in Bokeo province, who confirmed that the rescue occurred, but had no information regarding which unit was involved.

Warnings about trafficking

Several Lao workers in the zone said that police used to come inside for inspections and to warn workers about trafficking, but these days they come less frequently.

“At the casino, there are a lot of foreign workers, mostly Chinese workers, and a few Burmese and Cambodians,” one casino worker said. “The Lao police had been coming around looking at their legal papers. Some of them have been detained and others sent back home.”

Workers from Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam have all fallen prey to trafficking schemes, another worker told RFA.

“There are so many workers from other countries working in the zone right now,” the second worker said. “I don’t know how many, but there are a lot of Vietnamese workers at the beauty salon and tattoo shop.”

A Lao woman who knows the situation inside the Golden Triangle said that it is harder for traffickers these days because many people know about their previous schemes. 

Debt as leverage

In likely the most well-known scheme, the traffickers recruit female workers for jobs but require the women to go into debt for training expenses.

After they start working, it becomes apparent that they have been recruited as scammers to sell shares in companies within the zone to tourists. Sales quotas are set impossibly high, and when the women fail to meet them, they are fired and made to do other types of work to pay off the rest of their debt.

“Not many new people work as scammers anymore because they know that [employers] are cheating them, but some are still doing that kind of work,” the woman said. 

Lao police have rescued foreign workers who were tricked into becoming scammers in the special economic zone several times before, including in March of this year when they rescued 11 Sri Lankan workers.

In 2022, Lao police rescued 1,255 foreign workers, according to Maj. Gen. Onekeo Phommachark, the deputy director of the Ministry of Public Safety’s Inspection and Investigation Department. Of those, 869 were rescued by authorities in the Golden Triangle zone, while another 138 were rescued by Bokeo province police. 

The remaining 248 were rescued by local police in other provinces. Most of these workers had been recruited online by human traffickers.

Translated by RFA Lao. Edited by Eugene Whong and Malcolm Foster.

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