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Hundreds of foreigners held in Cambodian dragnet

Search for Chinese nationals missing at sea continues
A Chinese survivor rescued after a boat with 41 Chinese people on board capsized off the Cambodian coast lays on a bed at a hospital in Sihanoukville, southwestern Cambodia, on Sept 24

A Chinese survivor rescued after a boat with 41 Chinese people on board capsized off the Cambodian coast lays on a bed at a hospital in Sihanoukville, southwestern Cambodia, on Sept 24. (Photo:AFP)

Published: September 26, 2022 06:04 AM GMT
Updated: September 26, 2022 06:44 AM GMT

Cambodian police have detained 469 foreigners after a three-day operation was conducted across the southern port town of Sihanoukville amid a crackdown on human trafficking, illegal gambling and prostitution. Half were classified as illegal immigrants.

The dragnet was ordered by Prime Minister Hun Sen in addition to regular crackdowns on human trafficking and Chinese criminal syndicates, blamed for luring thousands of people from across Asia into “slave compounds” where they were forced to work telecom rackets.

Local police said of those detained 236 were classified as illegal immigrants and included 99 Chinese, two Taiwanese, 122 Vietnamese, five Malaysians, five Thais, three Indians and one each from Bangladesh and Myanmar.

The arrests came after local business and hotel operators were told they had two weeks to register every foreigner working and living in the city, which had been transformed into a gambling Mecca by Chinese investors but fell on hard times caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Further arrests were also made in Phnom Penh and elsewhere in the country during the final days of the annual Pchum Ben festival, also known as Buddhist Lent, which ends today.

“About 20 police arrived and went into that building there,” said one woman pointing to a three-story building in the capital’s red-light district. “They took away three foreigners and two locals and then locked down the premises.”

"Reports of torture and beatings for failing to meet quotas are common"

Cambodia has been battling a six-month wave of human trafficking where people are lured into the country with fake promises of high-paid jobs but are then held against their will and forced to work a range of online scams.

Reports of torture and beatings for failing to meet quotas are common. Many had been brought in on chartered flights, smuggled across borders and some arrived by sea.

The search for 19 Chinese still missing after their boat capsized in Cambodian waters is also continuing. Pro-government media reported 41 people were on board and that 21 people had been rescued and at least one had died.

“According to unofficial information,” the report said, nine others had fled to the Vietnamese border amid suspicions they were either trafficked or working for the syndicates.

Meanwhile, official media in Ho Chi Minh City has reported that more than 1,200 Vietnamese had been repatriated from Cambodia after being rescued in Sihanoukville.

Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Huu Viet, deputy chief of operations at the Ha Tien border gate said most workers had identity papers, including 36 people with passports. Some had no identification documents which had been lost or confiscated by businesses.

“Citizens who crossed the border with a passport will be allowed to enter the country in accordance with regulations,” he said. “People who illegally left the country will be required to write a report and give a statement to the police.”

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