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Trafficked Thai workers escape Chinese-run scam in Laos

Thais held against their will after being duped into selling dodgy shares in Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone

Trafficked Thai workers escape Chinese-run scam in Laos

A sign in Mandarin and English welcomes visitors to the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone behind tourist boats docked along the Mekong River in Laos. (Photo: AFP)

Published: March 17, 2022 05:18 AM GMT

Updated: March 17, 2022 05:28 AM GMT

Thais who were tricked into working in the Chinese-run Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone in Laos have all managed to return home, according to news reports.

The 15 Thais were recruited under false pretenses last December by brokers who promised them well-paying jobs; instead, they found themselves required to sell shares of dubious worth online to tourists in what appeared to be a scam.  

After realizing that they had been duped, the workers sought to return home but managed to do so only with difficulty because they were being held against their will by their employer, they said.

Five of them succeeded in returning to Thailand in late February by paying brokers to ferry them back from Laos across the Mekong River, which divides the two countries.

Then, earlier this month, six more of the workers escaped the same way while the final four were rescued this week, it has been reported.

The Thais, who included several women, were forced to work for about 16 hours a day with only two breaks, according to their accounts.

“We realized that we were not doing the work that we had actually agreed upon. We wanted to stop working, but our boss insisted that we continue or else we would be sold into prostitution”

Their job was to sell dodgy shares via fake social media accounts alongside three dozen other workers, most of whom were Chinese and Lao, on an upper floor of a well-guarded building inside the Chinese-run economic zone.

“They said we were working as administrators of the website of the Kings Romans Casino,” a female victim told a Thai news outlet. “Later we were told to disguise ourselves on the fake social media accounts, trying to convince others to invest or buy shares of the company.”

The woman said that after she and other Thai women tried to quit, they were threatened.

“We realized that we were not doing the work that we had actually agreed upon. We wanted to stop working, but our boss insisted that we continue or else we would be sold into prostitution,” she said.

Another escapee, a man, said they had been forced to live in spartan conditions and earned no money.

“We didn’t get paid at all. We stayed all together in a bedroom and received two meals a day,” he explained, adding that “if we couldn’t reach [our sales] target, they would threaten to sell us to another company. Because we were new, we couldn’t do much.”

The Chinese-run Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone, near the Thai border, has been bedeviled by claims of human trafficking 

After wising up to the sales scam and their entrapment, they contacted Thai authorities and five of them, three men and two women, made their escape to Thailand last month.

The others would soon follow with the help of sympathetic locals and Thai authorities, according to Thai media reports.

A senior Thai police officer told the media that this case of human trafficking was similar to previous cases and that “there might be many other groups of Thai workers on the Lao side.”

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 are often loath to investigate allegations that workers there are being maltreated.   

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