Trafficked Cambodian workers say casino owner is holding them against their will

Three Cambodian workers trafficked in Phnom Penh and taken to work in an illegal Chinese-owned casino in the resort town of Sihanoukville are being illegally detained by their employer, while police have yet to investigate the matter despite the filing of an official complaint against the owner, a relative of the trio said Thursday.

The cousin of the three workers — two women and one man — told RFA on Thursday that a 35-year-old Chinese national surnamed Long owns the business and forced his relatives to work in the online gambling industry for two months without allowing them to leave the building where they work. The illegal operation in an unmarked building has no name.

The cousin, who lives in Poipet in Banteay Meanchey province but declined to give his name out of fear for his safety, said he filed a complaint with the Sihanoukville Police Commissariat on Nov. 1 .

His relatives — Hang Lily, Hang Tyty and Nguon Chim — told him by phone that they had been trafficked by Chinese criminals and confined to work in a casino located in the coastal town village No. 1 in commune No. 3. His cousins requested that local authorities help them because the owner forced them to work even though they became ill, he said.

“The [Chinese] company threatened my younger cousins that if they didn’t sign a contract with them, they would sell my cousins to other companies,” the relative said. “It was at that time when my cousins realized that they had been sold from Phnom Penh to Kompong Som [Sihanoukville].”

“I would like to request that authorities help to get my cousins released,” he told RFA. “I want them to conduct a raid at that company to see what they have been concealing — and not just my cousins.”

In recent years, Chinese investors have flocked to Sihanoukville, which sits on a small peninsula that jets out into the Bay of Thailand. Dozens of Chinese-owned casinos and other businesses now operate there, generating jobs and economic activity, but also a growing list of workplace abuse allegations.

In 2019, the Cambodian government banned online gambling In Sihanoukville in response to growing domestic concerns about Chinese-led gangs, crime, illegal evictions, and land disputes that threatened public order.

The cousin wrote in the complaint he filed with police that his three relatives were recruited to work for a Chinese casino in Phnom Penh but were trafficked from one business to another and ended up in Sihanoukville where they now are being held against their will.

When they were recruited, the three were promised a monthly salary of U.S. $1,000 each, he said. They worked for the Chinese-owned company for about two months but received only half of what the amount they were promised. They submitted resignations, but the business owner refused to let them go and instead confined them to the building and forced them to sign a one-year contract.

Chuon Narin, Sihanoukville’s provincial police chief, told RFA on Thursday that he has yet to receive a complaint about the incident and urged the relative to personally submit the document at the provincial police commissariat so that relevant authorities could look into the matter and take legal action.

“I must see the complaint first,” Chuon Narin told RFA. “Whether they submit it during the day or night, we will conduct an investigation regardless of whether it is a false claim, but I haven’t seen yet that they have filed a complaint with us. If there is anything illegal, I will take action and enforce the law.”

In October, RFA reported that 437 workers, most of whom had contracted COVID-19, had been forced since March to remain inside and to continue working in the Chinese-owned Century Casino, an illegal online gambling business also located in Sihanoukville. The employees called on the provincial labor department on Sept. 25 to order the operator to stop forcing them to work.

Am Sam Ath, monitoring manager of the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights, a human rights NGO, said judicial police should not just wait until they receive hard-copy complaints before they take action.

“In such cases of illegal confinement and trafficking as mentioned by the victims’ relative, authorities must promptly enforce the law and find ways to free the victims,” Am Sam Ath said.

Cambodia handled 139 human trafficking cases and 59 sexual exploitation cases in the first six months of 2021, compared to 63 cases during the same period a year ago, Chou Bun Eng, secretary of state at Cambodia’s Interior Ministry and permanent vice-chair of the National Committee for Counter Trafficking, said in August.

Law enforcement agents arrested 291 suspects and rescued 721 victims, she said at the time, according to Xinhua news agency.

“However, the Cambodian government is doing its best to eliminate all forms of human trafficking and sexual exploitation in order to enhance the respect for human rights, dignity and social justice,’ she was quoted as saying.

Copyright © 1998-2016, RFA. Used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036Radio Free Europe--Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.