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Hundreds of trafficking victims rescued from Laos

Chinese-run Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone has become a gambling and tourism hub and haven for criminals

The Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone in Laos by the banks of the Mekong River

The Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone in Laos by the banks of the Mekong River (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Published: December 23, 2022 04:07 AM GMT

Updated: December 23, 2022 05:34 AM GMT

Authorities in Laos have rescued and repatriated about 1,680 human trafficking and forced labor victims in a Chinese-run Special Economic Zone (SEZ) since it was established in 2007, says a report.

An unnamed member of the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit in Bokeo province said the victims, including Lao workers and foreign nationals, were rescued and sent home from the Golden Triangle SEZ, Radio Free Asia reported on Dec. 19.

“Once rescued, a great number of them are transferred to an immigration center in the capital Vientiane and the rest to an immigration center in Luang Namtha province [bordering China],” said the official.

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The victims from more than 20 nationalities were promised lucrative jobs but ended up in trafficking rings that exploited them under the threat of violence.

The Golden Triangle SEZ was set up in Bokeo province along the Mekong River bordered by Myanmar and Thailand. It is home to the Kings Roman Casino resort and the area is known as a gambling and tourism hub and a haven for criminal activities.

Many victims were denied their basic human rights and forced to work in the service industry and engage in criminal activities including prostitution, scamming and drug trafficking, RFA Laos reported.

"They are uneducated and uninformed about the dangers of human trafficking"

Most workers arrived in the SEZ to work as waiters, waitresses, bartenders, sex workers, and online scammers, known as chatterers, at a call center in the SEZ.

“About half of them were lured to the Special Economic Zone [SEZ], and the other half came here by choice,” the official added.

The rescued workers also include women under 18 who are referred to the provincial Lao Women’s Union, a political organization that provides physical and psychological health services and advice before sending them back to their Lao families or respective countries.

“Many victims are trafficked to China, many others to Thailand,” an unnamed counselor said.

“These victims are from poor and remote areas. They need money. They are uneducated and uninformed about the dangers of human trafficking,” she added.

Meanwhile, Lao police are engaged in trying to arrest the ring leaders.

“We know that these gang leaders sometimes torture workers"

Kenchanh Phommachack, deputy director of Police in the Lao Ministry of Public Security last week said that 74 people were charged with human trafficking in the Golden Triangle SEZ between Sept. 1 and Dec. 12.

“Most of the arrested human traffickers are Chinese, Indians, Malaysians and Pakistanis, and most of them are middlemen and small fish who provided shelters and means of transportation to the victims,” the unnamed anti-trafficking official in Bokeo province told RFA.

However, the official stated that many of the “big fish like Chinese human trafficking ring leaders” are “uncatchable.”

“We know that these gang leaders sometimes torture workers or even kidnap them for ransom,” he added.

According to Phommachack, among 27 arrested, detained, and charged suspects were 16 foreigners. He added that police had also rescued 21 human-trafficking victims, including 14 foreign nationals, over the same period.

A former online scammer who left the SEZ last year told RFA that many workers in the SEZ’s call center were Laotian, Chinese, Indian, and Vietnamese.

"They lose all their money for good"

“Their job is to scam people, lie to them, and convince them to invest in the SEZ,” the person said. “Once they do, they lose all their money for good. They will never get it back.”

“Many Laotians still work there because they don’t have any other job or any other choice. There aren’t many jobs available in Laos,” the former scammer said.

On March, 15 Thais recruited under false pretenses by brokers who promised them well-paying jobs found themselves required to sell shares of dubious worth online to tourists in what appeared to be a scam. 

The Thais were forced to work 16 hours a day with only two breaks, according to their accounts which they shared after their escape.

The Chinese-run Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone, near the Thai border, has been bedeviled by claims of human trafficking with locals and Thais being tricked into working there and then being kept against their will by unscrupulous employers.

The zone enjoys a special legal status in communist Laos and local authorities often refuse to investigate allegations that workers are being maltreated.  


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