KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysia's foreign minister on Friday brought 24 Malaysians back from Cambodia who were rescued from human traffickers, out of a total of 148 citizens he said have been reported missing in the country.
Saifuddin Abdullah said 65 of the 148 missing Malaysians were rescued and brought home earlier, and 29 others are still at immigration centers in Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville and will be sent home when their paperwork and investigations are completed. Another 30 remain missing, officials said..
The Malaysians, mostly young people, were lured by fake offers of high-paid work in Cambodia and ended up in the hands of human traffickers and were trapped there, he said.
Saifuddin didn't provide details on how the 24 people who returned Friday were tricked into going to Cambodia or how long they were trapped. The victims, who appeared at a news conference with Saifuddin, were mostly masked and didn't speak to reporters.
Saifuddin said such job scams are not unique to Cambodia and have been reported in other places, including South Africa. About 500 Malaysian companies operate in Cambodia, and 5,000 Malaysians work or do business safely there, he said.
“What is most important is that they are coming back to Malaysia today safe and sound. We do not want to go into the details," Saifuddin said. “There is no guarantee we can stop it (job scams) but we will try our level best.”
Last month, Taiwan's government also said 333 of its citizens were stuck in Cambodia after being lured by crime groups promising high wages for tech jobs.
Cambodia’s government said it would launch a nationwide check of all foreigners, especially those residing or working at hotels, rented properties or casinos, to search for victims of human traffickers.
Cambodian deputy National Police chief Gen. Chhay Sinarith has said authorities in recent years have uncovered numerous illegal online schemes luring workers, and have arrested hundreds of people from mainland China and Taiwan for involvement. Scammers, mainly from China, have used Cambodia as a base for extorting money, Chhay Sinarith said.
The U.N. special rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia, Vitit Muntarbhorn, said after a visit to Phnom Penh last month that people from various Asian countries have been lured into taking jobs in Cambodia but found themselves trapped in virtual slavery and often forced to participate in scams targeting people over the internet.
The scam networks, which often have links to transnational organized crime, are set up in countries with weak law enforcement, attracting educated young workers with promises of high earnings. The workers are then subject to isolation and the threat of violence unless they succeed in cheating victims reached by phone into transferring payments into overseas bank accounts.
Vitit said human trafficking victims exist in a “living hell,” subject to torture and risking death if they try to escape from detention in their closely guarded workplaces. He said Cambodia needs to implement stronger countermeasures and receive deeper international cooperation and support.