Hundreds of thousands of people are being trafficked across Southeast Asia by criminal enterprises and forced to work in a burgeoning world of online scams, according to the United Nations.
(Bloomberg) — Hundreds of thousands of people are being trafficked across Southeast Asia by criminal enterprises and forced to work in a burgeoning world of online scams, according to the United Nations.
Romance-investment schemes, crypto fraud, money laundering and illegal gambling have ballooned since the pandemic, which spurred illicit activities across the region. Now, at least 120,000 people across Myanmar may be held in situations where they are forced to carry out such crimes, with estimates in Cambodia at around 100,000, according to a UN Human Rights Office report published Tuesday.
Other nations including Laos, the Philippines and Thailand “have also been identified as main countries of destination or transit where at least tens of thousands of people have been involved,” the report says. Reports suggest that scam centers in the region generate revenue amounting to billions of dollars.
“States within the region are trying to identify actions and policies to address this phenomenon, while criminal actors are reacting by finding ways to change and relocate their operations, building new centers across the region and upgrading existing compounds,” the report says.
Most people trafficked into the online scam operations are men, although women and adolescents are also among the victims, the report says. Most are not citizens of the countries in which the trafficking occurs. Victims tend to come from across Southeast Asia but also include people from mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Asia and as far afield as Africa and Latin America.
“While some countries in Southeast Asia have put in place legal and policy frameworks relevant to counter trafficking, in some cases they fall short of international standards,” the UN agency says. “In many cases their implementation has failed to respond adequately to the context and sophistication of these online scams.”
Those caught up in the scams “endure inhumane treatment,” including sexual violence and torture, the reported added.
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