More than 100 Thais who were rescued from a Chinese online gambling ring in Cambodia returned home on Wednesday, according to police officers who said this was at least the fourth repatriation since late October of workers who were lured by promises of earning good money.
Officials from Thailand and Cambodia cooperated in Tuesday’s crackdown of the ring, which operates illegal businesses in Pursat, a province in southern Cambodia, according to a Thai police official tasked with supervising anti-human trafficking operations.
Earlier, some of those being held were able to contact relatives to seek help from officials, Police Gen. Roy Ingkaroj, a deputy national police chief, told reporters at the bridge connecting Poi Pet in Cambodia and Aranyaprathet in Thailand during a repatriation ceremony.
“When Thai officials learned of the incident, we contacted Cambodian security forces in Pursat and the Thai embassy to rescue them. On the morning of Nov. 23, they rescued 103,” Roy said.
Roy and Yi Phealy, Cambodian deputy director of immigration at checkpoint I, observed the repatriation.
Of those returning to Thailand, 30 tested positive for COVID-19 and were quarantined, according to health officials who joined police in welcoming the workers.
Without elaborating, Roy said Cambodian and Chinese nationals who detained the Thais were arrested.
The rescue operation was at least the fourth since Oct. 29, accounting for about 230 workers who were allegedly tricked by Chinese offers of high-paying jobs, according to senior police officers at Thailand’s National Police Bureau.
Police Lt. Gen. Surachate Hakpal, who coordinated the first rescue operation in October, previously said that Thai brokers and Chinese employers living in Cambodia had been collaborating with an organized crime syndicate.
Roy said as many as 2,000 Thais are stranded in similar situations in Cambodia and are hoping to be freed.
He said investigators found that the syndicate ran job ads on social media promising up to 30,000 baht ($898) a month to lure workers, but those taking the bait were smuggled into Cambodia via illicit routes.
One of the victims, who asked not to be named because of security concerns, told police that he and the others were loaded onto a bus and taken to a hotel before being transferred to Pursat to work in the call center and online gambling networks.
After he learned that the job was not what he had agreed to, including benefits and pay, he told the employers he wanted to go back – leading to physical threats, confinement and lack of food.
The man said he and others were able to contact relatives in Thailand and ask for help. Police did not say how they were able to reach out to their families.
The rescue follows a similar operation on Nov. 18 when 99 workers were freed. Local media reported that one of the workers said he and others were forced by their Chinese employers to raise 1 million to 2 million baht ($30,000 to $60,000) each month or be punished.
“We faced harsher physical torture day by day so we tried to seek help from the embassy. Some were abducted when the employers caught them doing so. Some women were resold,” the worker told Thai PBS at the time.
Before the military led by then-Gen. Prayuth Chan-o-cha overthrew the Thai government in May 2014, the two next-door neighbors rarely extradited political activists and others, according to observers. By 2018, government leaders signed an extradition agreement.
This month, Thai officials have sent three activists, Voeun Veasna, Voeung Samnang and Lahn Thavry, to Cambodia. A fourth activist, Mich Heang, is in Thai custody and is expected to be sent back as well.
While officials did not link the activists being sent to Thailand with the workers being freed from Cambodia, the deputy director of the Asia division for Human Rights Watch questioned the governments’ actions.
“The only way this happens is through a ‘swap mart’ deal between PM Hun Sen and top officials of the Thai government. The big question is what Thailand received in return,” Phil Robertson told BenarNews on Tuesday.
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