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24 Malaysians rescued from Cambodian traffickers

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysia’s foreign minister brought back 24 Malaysians from Cambodia who were rescued from human traffickers on Sept. 9, saying a total of 148 of the country’s citizens are missing.

Saifuddin Abdullah said 65 of the 148 missing Malaysians were rescued earlier and brought home, while another 29 were still at immigration centres in Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville and would be sent after their paperwork and investigations were completed go home. Thirty people are still missing, officials said.

He said Malaysians, mainly young people, who were lured by fake high-paying jobs in Cambodia ended up in the hands of human traffickers, trapped there.

Saifuddin did not elaborate on how the 24 returnees were tricked into going to Cambodia, or how long they were trapped. The victims who attended the news conference with Saifuddin mostly wore masks and did not speak to reporters.

Saifuddin said this type of job scam is not unique to Cambodia and has been reported elsewhere, including South Africa. He said about 500 Malaysian companies were operating in Cambodia and 5,000 Malaysians were working or doing business there safely.

“The most important thing is that they return to Malaysia safe and sound today. We don’t want to go into the details,” Saifuddin said. “There’s no guarantee we can stop it (job scams), but we’ll do our best.”

Last month, the Taiwanese government also said 333 Taiwanese citizens were trapped in Cambodia after being lured by a criminal syndicate promising high salaries for tech jobs.

The Cambodian government said it would conduct nationwide checks on all foreigners, especially those living or working in hotels, rental properties or casinos, to find victims of human traffickers.

General Chhay Sinarith, deputy head of the Cambodian National Police, said authorities had uncovered many illegal online schemes to lure workers in recent years and arrested hundreds of people from mainland China and Taiwan for their involvement. Scammers, mainly from China, use Cambodia as a base for extorting funds, Chhay Snarith said.

After visiting Phnom Penh last month, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia, Vitit Muntarbhorn, said people from various Asian countries were lured to work in Cambodia but found themselves in virtual slavery and were often forced to participate in scams Target people through the internet.

Fraud networks, often linked to transnational organized crime, are built in countries with weak law enforcement to attract educated young workers who promise high incomes. Unless they successfully trick victims they reach over the phone into transferring money into overseas bank accounts, the workers will face isolation and threats of violence.

Human trafficking victims exist in a “hell on earth” and are tortured and risk death if they try to escape detention in a heavily guarded workplace, Wittit said. He said that Cambodia needs to take stronger countermeasures and get deeper international cooperation and support.

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