Human trafficking rings found after 40 Vietnamese escape from Cambodia casino

Four human trafficking rings have been found operating in provinces and cities across Vietnam following the escape of more than 40 migrant workers from a Chinese-owned casino in Cambodia, Vietnamese state media reported on Tuesday.

Information on the rings has been sent to the Criminal Police Department of Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security, according to Col. Dinh Van Noi, Director of An Giang Provincial Police.

The ministry will now work with local police to round up the criminal gangs, Noi added in media reports.

Around 42 Vietnamese workers escaped on Aug. 18 from the Koh Thom casino complex in Cambodia’s Kandal province, with a video posted the same day by media outlet VnExpress showing workers jumping into a river, chased by guards swinging metal rods.

A 16-year-old worker from Vietnam’s Gia Lai province was later found dead in the Binh Di River, which the workers had jumped into as they fled the casino, the VnExpress reported on Aug. 20.

Cambodian authorities have now detained the casino’s Chinese manager as they investigate allegations of forced labor and worker abuse.

Workers fleeing the Koh Thom casino reported to police they had been exploited “and did not receive the salary agreed to by both sides, and sometimes were not even paid at all,” Noi told state media in Vietnam.

“In addition, they were forced to commit online fraud and organize online gambling. They were also beaten up, tortured and forced to urge their families to send large ransoms.”

Some Vietnamese workers had also been sold from one casino to another, the An Giang police director said.

'Hells of exploitation'

Cambodia’s Kandal province, which borders An Giang in Vietnam, is home to seven casinos employing workers from Vietnam and other countries.

Quoted in state media on Tuesday, Senior Col. Khong Ngoc Oanh from the ministry’s Criminal Police Department said that Vietnamese workers were being lured to Cambodia with promises of high wages and light workloads, but were instead being trapped in “hells of exploitation.”

Vietnam’s embassy in Cambodia has asked Cambodian authorities to “handle the situation quickly” to avoid damaging ties between the two neighboring countries, Vietnamese state media said on Monday.

The Cambodian Immigration Department’s detention center is now holding 24 Vietnamese nationals, of whom 11 were detained following the Koh Thom incident on Aug. 18, and 13 were rescued from other workplaces in Kandal, government sources said.

Human rights groups in Cambodia urged their government to conduct an independent investigation into businesses and casinos that detained people for illegal scamming operations.

“It is a shocking video. It is showing those people are in panic, as if they'd rather die than stay inside the building. It is not a good sign for human rights in Cambodia,” Ros Sotha, executive director of the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee.

Am Sam Ath of Licadho, a human rights NGO, said Cambodia will get a bad reputation if it fails to combat trafficking after such a prominent case.

“We need to effectively implement the law. Regardless their positions, they must be brought to justice so we can prevent human trafficking,” he told RFA Khmer.

Minister of Interior Sar Kheng, however, raised doubts about the viral video, telling reporters on Aug. 18 that some of the Vietnamese might have come to Cambodia to work illegally but when they arrived in Cambodia they couldn’t agree on contracts. so they fled and swam back to Vietnam.

“Some [cases] are true and some are not. Our mission is to rescue and, secondly, to arrest ring leaders and to prosecute them,” he said.

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