In a recent report released on Tuesday, the United Nations revealed a distressing situation in Southeast Asia, where criminal organisations are exploiting hundreds of thousands of individuals, coercing them into working within fraudulent call centers and other illegal online operations. These activities have proliferated throughout the region in recent years.
The UN’s report, drawing from reliable sources, indicates that a minimum of 120,000 people in Myanmar and approximately 100,000 in Cambodia find themselves ensnared in these deceptive operations. Furthermore, similar illicit enterprises have emerged in Laos, the Philippines, and Thailand, encompassing a range of criminal activities from cryptocurrency fraud to online gambling.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk emphasised the harrowing plight of those trapped in these fraudulent enterprises, stating, “People forced to participate in these fraudulent activities endure severe mistreatment and are compelled to commit crimes. They are victims, not perpetrators.”
The report from the UN Human Rights Office stands as one of the most comprehensive examinations of this troubling phenomenon, which has intensified in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The closure of traditional casinos has driven criminal organisations toward less regulated sectors in Southeast Asia.
These rapidly expanding scam centers are generating substantial revenues, amounting to billions of US dollars annually, according to the report.
The report also highlights a concerning trend, where criminal actors are increasingly targeting vulnerable migrants, luring them into their operations by falsely offering legitimate employment opportunities. This exploitation extends to victims hailing from various Southeast Asian nations, as well as China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. Some individuals recruited for these illicit operations come from as far afield as Africa and Latin America.
The UN rights office has issued a call to action for regional governments, urging them to reinforce the rule of law and combat corruption to dismantle the pervasive cycle of impunity that fuels the flourishing of criminal enterprises.
Notably, the governments of Myanmar and Cambodia have not yet responded to requests for comment regarding the UN’s report made by Reuters news agency.
Due to the clandestine nature of these activities and gaps in the response by authorities, accurately gauging the extent of the problem in Southeast Asia remains a significant challenge, as noted in the report. Nonetheless, credible sources have painted a troubling picture, suggesting that at least 120,000 people in Myanmar and around 100,000 in Cambodia are enduring forced involvement in online scam operations.