Remaining 14 young Laotians freed from Chinese casino in Myanmar

They are safe in Thailand and awaiting transfer to Laos after being held for nearly two years by scam operators.
By Souphatta for RFA Lao
2024.05.22
Remaining 14 young Laotians freed from Chinese casino in Myanmar
Photo: RFA

The remaining 14 young Laotians held by scam operators at a Chinese-run casino in Myanmar’s Kayin state have been set free and are on their way home, according to their parents.

The young Laotians were trafficked to work as scammers at a place called “Casino Kosai” in an isolated development near the town of Myawaddy, close to the Thai border. The gang that held them represent just a drop in the bucket of the vast networks of human trafficking that claim over 150,000 victims a year in Southeast Asia.

A mother of one of the trafficking victims said her son informed her that he and the 13 others were released by their captors on the morning of May 15 and made their way across the border from Myawaddy, where ethnic Karen rebels have been engaged in intense fighting with junta troops in recent months.

“We are … so happy to learn that our children are released now – some of us are in tears,” said the mother who, like others interviewed for this report, spoke to RFA Lao on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. “All of them are on their way back home, but now they are staying in Mae Sot district, in Thailand’s Tak province.”

The 14 Laotians were made to pay nearly US$200 each for a ferry ticket to cross the Moei River from Myanmar, as well as document-processing fees to police in Thailand, she added – no small sum for the youths, many of whom had been lured from impoverished Laos to the casino in hopes of finding a work.

RFA spoke with a member of the Thai immigration police who confirmed that the workers were under their protection.

“All of them are with us now at the Tak province immigration office and we are taking care of them,” the officer said. “Their parents and relatives can now stop worrying as everything is under control and we are just waiting to send them back home.”

The officer was unable to provide any details on how the 14 were rescued or when they would be able to return to Laos.

Years of captivity

Many of the young Laotians originally sought jobs in one of the casinos in the Golden Triangle, the border region Laos shares with Thailand and Myanmar. 

But instead they ended up trafficked and held captive at the Casino Kosai, which is about 320 kilometers (200 miles) south of the Golden Triangle and 640 kilometers (400 miles) from their homes in Luang Namtha province in northern Laos. 

For more than a year, their parents had sent pleading messages to government officials in Laos and Myanmar, before their children were rescued.

Another parent, who also declined to be named, said that RFA’s reporting on the youths and others held at the casino had been a comfort to her during the two years she waited to learn what would become of her son.

“I wept as soon as I learned that they, including my son, were all safe and sound in Thailand,” she said.

The Chinese-owned ‘Casino Kosai’ (shown) in Myawaddy, Myanmar near the Thai border. (Citizen journalist)
The Chinese-owned ‘Casino Kosai’ (shown) in Myawaddy, Myanmar near the Thai border. (Citizen journalist)

The mother of another victim told RFA she was “speechless” knowing that her son was returning home after years of captivity.

“I can’t find any words to express how happy I am – I could only weep with joy when I learned he had been released and will be coming home soon,” she said. “If RFA reporters hadn’t been following up on this story, I would have had no knowledge of my son’s whereabouts or if he would ever be released.”

The parents called on Lao and Thai authorities to bring their children home as soon as possible.

“We don’t want them to have to stay in Thailand very long as they’ve been in hell for nearly two years in Myanmar,” one told RFA.

Some still held

Despite the news of the homecoming, not all of the victims’ parents were able to breathe a sigh of relief.

The mother of an 18-year-old woman from Luang Namtha province who was initially held along with the group of 14 in Myanmar told RFA that she had gone missing nearly a month ago, and said she believes her daughter was sold to another gang of scammers.

“I have no idea what to do now in the middle of this joyful news that the young Lao workers had been released from the casino,” she said. “If my daughter was still there with two or three other people, I would be less worried … All my husband and I want is to be reunited with our daughter.”

Attempts by RFA to reach the Lao embassies in Myanmar and Thailand, as well as anti-trafficking officials under the Lao ministry of public security, for comment on the release of the 14 and the situation facing other Lao nationals held in Myanmar went unanswered by the time of publishing.

Last month, two teenage girls were allowed to leave the casino after a 40,000 yuan (US$5,500) fee was paid to gain their freedom. They arrived home to Luang Namtha province on April 8. 

Translated by Phouvong. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcom Foster.

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