Cambodia says it helps foreigners being scammed by people smugglers

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Cambodia said Friday it is trying to help foreigners who have been victims of people smugglers after Taiwan said it wants to free more than 300 of its citizens who had been lured to the Southeast Asian country by organized crime groups.

The mostly well-educated young people were promised high wages for tech jobs, but were then forced to work in call centers, defrauding mainly mainland Chinese to make payments for non-existent government fees or investment opportunities.

Interior Minister Sar Kheng said his ministry is launching a nationwide check of all foreigners living in Cambodia, except for embassy staff. He said it will mainly look for foreigners who have been victims of people smugglers.

He said police in two provinces, Kandal and Preah Sihanoukville, checked on Thursday the status of foreigners living or working in hotels, rental properties and casinos.

Sar Kheng said several people have been arrested on suspicion of organizing human trafficking and several alleged victims have been taken into custody. Police were still trying to determine whether those who said they were the victims were telling the truth, he said.

Sar Kheng did not specify how many people were arrested or what their nationalities were, but confirmed that some foreigners told police they were drawn to what were portrayed as legal jobs with high salaries.

However, upon arrival in Cambodia, they were forced to work illegally in jobs that “were not what they had agreed to,” Sar Kheng said.

Separately, deputy chief of national police, General Chhay Sinarith, said Cambodian authorities have discovered numerous illegal online schemes in recent years that have lured illegal workers, and have arrested hundreds of people from China and Taiwan for involvement.

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Scammers, mainly from China, have used Cambodia as a base to extort money, Chhay Sinarith said.

The Taiwanese government said Friday that 333 of its citizens were detained in Cambodia after being lured by criminal groups promising high wages for tech jobs, based on reports from families asking for help. The situation is further complicated as Cambodia is a close ally of China and refuses to recognize Taiwan or have official contacts with the government in Taipei.

Taiwanese media has covered extensively the plight of those trapped in the networks. Police at Taiwan’s main Taoyuan International Airport are patrolling with placards warning of the dangers of bogus high-salary offers in Southeast Asia.

Taiwanese authorities have also contacted travel agencies to expose the scam, and more than a dozen people have been arrested over recruitment programs aimed at deceiving young people for jobs advertised as high-paying positions in computer engineering and similar fields.

It has also become a political issue, with the minority Nationalist party accusing the ruling Democratic Progressive Party of inaction on this matter. Prime Minister Su Tseng-chang has called for diplomatic assistance and crackdown on local criminal groups organizing the scams.

Nationalist Deputy Secretary General Lee Yen-hsiu said more public outreach is needed to tackle the fake job postings.

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