Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Twelve Cambodian women rescued from traffickers in China

Poipet International Checkpoint. Despite border closures during the pandemic, Cambodians continue to seek illegal work abroad. Photo taken on March 2021. CamboJA/ Panha Chhorpoan
Poipet International Checkpoint. Despite border closures during the pandemic, Cambodians continue to seek illegal work abroad. Photo taken on March 2021. CamboJA/ Panha Chhorpoan

A Cambodian officials said Thursday that Cambodian and Chinese authorities had rescued 12 women who were victims of human trafficking.

Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said that the consulate general in Chongqing, China reported that it had cooperated with local authorities in the rescue operation and that the women would be repatriated on September 2, but declined to share more details. 

Chou Bun Eng, Interior Ministry’s vice-chair of the National Committee for Counter Trafficking, said she was aware that a group of Cambodian women had been rescued from trafficking, but she had not received detailed information yet.

She said that in the first six months of 2021, NCCT recorded 2,317 cases where Cambodians were rescued from trafficking abroad, including 231 from China. The rest came from Malaysia, Mali, Singapore, Indonesia, India, Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos.

In 2020, she said, authorities rescued 10,572 persons from seven countries, including 82 from China.

Illegal labor brokers have a broad reach in Cambodia, traveling to poor villages and offering paid jobs abroad in factories, construction sites, and more. While some workers are given the promised jobs, many are trafficked — forced to labor unpaid in sometimes slavelike conditions on fishing boats, brothels, and plantations. Others have their passports confiscated and wages withheld, making it difficult for them to return home without assistance.

“Those people crossed the border illegally, were cheated by brokers and involved in human trafficking,” Bun Eng said.

Bun Eng called on the public to avoid illegally crossing borders with labor brokers, and made a special call for women to be aware of the risk of bride trafficking. Thousands of Cambodian women have been illegally taken to China to marry Chinese men, sometimes knowingly, but often unaware amid promises of lucrative positions.

“[We] don’t know their purpose, or how they will treat them, including their attitude,” she said. “The point that we are concerned, [the women] have known and heard of [trafficking] but they are still taking the risks.”

The U.S embassy in Phnom Penh on Thursday launched a new, five-year USAID-Funded Cambodia Counter Trafficking in Person (CTIP) program. The project, which runs till 2026, aims to address the root causes of human trafficking, protect vulnerable populations from trafficking, and assist the Cambodian government to combat trafficking and support victims more effectively.

Cambodia has for three years been on its Tier 2 watchlist in trafficking in person report, with the government failing to meet the “minimum standard” for the elimination of human trafficking due in part to “endemic corruption.”

Dy Thehoya, a program officer at rights group Central, has observed that there have been scant successful efforts by authorities to prevent the human trafficking, noting that there is still collusion between officials and traffickers.

He said that there are many root causes of human trafficking that relevant authorities failed to address, pointing out that trafficking victims hold passports and cross border checkpoints, suggesting systemic collusion between brokers and authorities.

“We used to interview victims who had returned, they said that there were people who were under 18-years-old but could still apply for [falsified] IDs,” Thehoya said.

“If they don’t have a high position, they can’t facilitate the making of an ID and passport for someone who is underage, so systematic corruption is difficult to take legal measures against,” he said. “I believe that if the government can eradicate corruption at sub-national levels, it will reduce some offenses.”

Thehoya said preventive measures remain weak at addressing the root causes of trafficking. And with many people struggling amid the pandemic, the lack of jobs in Cambodia continue to push people to seek work overseas.

The Cambodian consulate general in Chongqing didn’t respond to emailed questions.

Chiv Phally, director of the Ministry of Interior’s Anti-Human Trafficking Department, could not be reached for comment.

(Additional reporting by Ngay Nai)

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