Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Relatives of suspected human trafficking victims urge police intervention

A general view of downtown Sihanoukville, picture taken October 28, 2021. CamboJA/ Sorn Sarath
A general view of downtown Sihanoukville, picture taken October 28, 2021. CamboJA/ Sorn Sarath

A relative of three Cambodians allegedly trafficked for work in online gambling is sounding an alarm in another possible case of forced labor in the city of Sihanoukville.

Khut Heng, the relative, told CamboJA that he and other relatives of the trio had filed a complaint on Monday with the Preah Sihanouk provincial police chief reporting that a Chinese national nicknamed “A Long” had in August lured his family members with the promise of a well-paid job only to trap them in an exploitative work situation.

Speaking on Wednesday, Heng said his relatives from Takeo province had traveled to Phnom Penh for an interview with the man known as A Long. Over the course of the three-day trip, the man said a company in Sihanoukville would pay them a salary of $1,000 per month. The name of the company was unknown to the alleged victims, but was located in the Muoy Village of Bei commune in Sihanoukville.

After about 15 days of work at that company, according to Heng, the three workers were “sold” to a different company, where they worked for an additional two months and six days. At the end of that period, Heng reported, they were given only $500 each.

Heng said that one of his relatives had called him and said the trio hadn’t realized they’d been sold off until they asked to stop working at the end of October. That was when the second online gaming company refused to let them stop, informing them their labor had been purchased.  Company representatives then coerced the trio to sign a one-year work contract under a threat of selling them off yet again.

“The victim told me that they were sold for more than $3,000 each, so if they wanted to stop working, they needed to pay the company [that same amount],” Heng said, adding that police had not yet resolved the case.

One of his relatives, a woman, had fallen ill but was still forced to work, Heng said.

“I appeal to the police officials to help rescue them from that place,” he said.

Another relative of three victims, Nheb Klara, said he’d also been contacted by one of them in a plea for help.

“All three victims were not allowed to go outside and they were forced to work every day,” Klara said.

Besides joining the effort to report the situation to Sihanoukville police, Klara said he also asked the labor rights group Central for help.

Khun Tharo, Central program manager, said that this is not the first case of both Cambodians and foreign laborers, including those from China, being exploited at Chinese-owned enterprises in Sihanoukville.

“There have been many other cases of labor exploitation going on there that have been reported,” Tharo said. “Workers got locked inside the working place and had no access to the outside. This is illegal, it’s a form of human trafficking that needs to be tackled.”

He said that since Cambodia shut its borders to handle the COVID-19 pandemic, labor trafficking increasingly turned to stranded foreign workers and tourists, who have been lured into working for fraudulent schemes.

Before the pandemic, Cambodia had become a popular destination for workers in tourism, construction and education, all sectors which were hit hard by COVID-19. The contraction of those industries has left a pool of “invisible people” for recruiters to prey on, Tharo said.

“Many have lost their jobs and they’re very easy to access, very easy to scam and falls under the brokers leading [them] to human trafficking,” he explained.

“I urge the authorities to investigate this case and pay attention to the victims’ complaint, and also please research the source of the gambling executive,” Tharo continued, appealing to police to punish the illegal operators under Cambodian law.

Kheang Phearum, the spokesman for the Sihanoukville provincial administration, said police would intervene immediately in the case upon receiving the complaint from the involved family members.

However, Preah Sihanouk provincial police chief Chuon Narin said he didn’t yet know about the case and said the victims should call in to the office hotline.

Y Sokha, chief of the provincial anti-human trafficking police, did not comment and his deputy Suon Sophan could not be reached.

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