Hundreds of thousands forced to scam in SE Asia
There are at least 120,000 people working these scams in Myanmar, and another 100,000 in Cambodia.
Some victims have come from further afield, such as Africa and Latin America, but the majority are Asian men.
Even though the problem has existed for years, the UN report is the first comprehensive study of its scope.
Due to pandemic-related shutdowns, millions of people were stuck at home and spent more time online, making them easy targets for online fraudsters.
While criminal gangs traditionally preyed on less-educated people, they are now preying on professionals, often with graduate or post-graduate degrees.
In many places where people are forced into cybercrime, governance and the rule of law are weak, and authority is contested, the report noted.
We must not forget that these complex phenomena have two sets of victims, said Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in calling for justice for those who have been defrauded through online criminality.
Each year, these scam centers generate billions of dollars in revenue, according to the UN.
Many media outlets, including the , have interviewed victims of these criminal networks.
They are often tricked into traveling to Cambodia, Myanmar, and Thailand by ads promising easy work and extravagant perks.
As soon as they arrive, they are taken prisoner and forced to work in online scam centers. The safety of those who do not comply is at risk. There have been many cases of torture and inhuman treatment.
Some networks also target people seeking love and romance with “pig-butchering” scams. Last year, a 25-year-old Malaysian was tortured to death after he went to Bangkok to meet a “girlfriend” he had only spoken to online.
He was trafficked to Myanmar and forced to work for companies that engaged in online scams. He told his parents he had been beaten up for allegedly faking illness in one of his last telephone calls. After a month in intensive care, he died.
Southeast Asian countries’ regulations often fall short of international standards and have “in large part” failed to respond adequately to how online scam operations have evolved since the pandemic.
The UN Human Rights Office’s Pia Oberoi said many more cases aren’t reported because victims face “stigma and shame” for the work they have done.
According to the report, an appropriate response should go beyond addressing organized crime and enforcing border controls, but should also provide protection and justice for these victims of trafficking.
Governments should be resolute in cracking down on these criminal networks, Mr. Türk said.
The affected states must summon the political will to strengthen human rights, improve governance, and ensure the rule of law, including tackling corruption seriously and sustainably.