by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Kiensvay/WikiCommons/CC BY-SA 3.0

CONCERNS HAVE been raised in recent times about the possibility of Taiwanese facing human trafficking in Cambodia. Immigration data shows that there may be around 2,000 Taiwanese victims of human trafficking in Cambodia, or potentially as many as 5,000 individuals, due to difficulties determining the number of Taiwanese in Cambodia. 

The National Police Agency’s estimate is that there are at least 2,000 victims of human trafficking in Cambodia, with 1,000 Taiwanese having traveled to Cambodia recently but only around 100 returning each month. The overall situation is still unclear, however, seeing as the police have officially documented only 141 cases, with 17 persuaded not to travel to Cambodia after warnings at the airport. Namely, some gangs engaged in human trafficking transport victims into Myanmar or Cambodia by land from third countries that serve as relay points, making such cases more difficult to detect.

Photo credit: Cheng-en Cheng/WikiCommons/CC BY-SA 2.0

It is thought that Taiwanese were persuaded to travel to Cambodia and became victims of human trafficking because of promises of high-paying jobs. Victims have their passports and other documents confiscated from them, are threatened to prevent them from leaving, sold multiple times between captors, and face physical violence from their captors, including sexual assault. There has been confirmation of one death of a Taiwanese human trafficking victim in Sihanoukville, Cambodia to date. Efforts by Taiwanese to escape include jumping from buildings, suffering injuries in the process. 

Some of the details of these human trafficking cases have been reported by freed victims. Victims are made to help carry out financial fraud by telephone or through online messaging apps such as LINE, posing as financial investment counselors. Indeed, many phone scam rings targeting Taiwan are based out of southeast Asia, whether participants in the ring are doing so of their own free will or not. 

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, more than 222 cases of Taiwanese having their freedom restricted have been reported to Taiwan’s representative office in Ho Chi Minh City between June 21st and August 10th. Of these, 51 have since returned to Taiwan. 

KMT Taipei city councilor Angela Ying also stated in a press conference that her office had received requests for help from at least ten Taiwanese individuals in Cambodia. Ying stated that efforts to date by Taiwanese authorities were primarily focused on dissuading Taiwanese from traveling to Cambodia instead of assisting imprisoned Taiwanese. 

Cooperation between law enforcement in Cambodia and Taiwan has been complicated in the absence of any official diplomatic ties between the two countries. This is probably exacerbated by strengthening ties between Cambodia and China. It does not appear to be only Taiwanese that have been kidnapped, but also Indonesian, Malaysian, and Thai nationals. It is thought that some of the kidnapped Taiwanese have histories of drug or fraud charges and so may be reluctant to come forward. This fact led the international NGO, the Global Anti-Scam Org, to halt rescue operations for Taiwanese and Malaysians after August 3rd.

Nine were arrested in July on human trafficking charges, including individuals thought to be members of the Bamboo Union gang. Two were arrested this month on charges related to telecom fraud in Cambodia. A task force has been set up by the Executive Yuan to deal with human trafficking issues in Cambodia, as well as Myanmar, and other countries, following calls from pan-Green legislators such as Freddy Lim, Lai Pin-yu, Saidhai Tahovecahe, and Lin Chun-hsien for a cross-ministerial task force to be set up on the matter.

Facebook by independent legislator Freddy Lim about the issue

In a similar timeframe, law enforcement has reported on arrests made of individuals in human trafficking operations that kidnapped more than 50 Taiwanese in Dubai. The kidnapped individuals were lured to Dubai with the promise of payment of more than 1 million NT for six months of work, but then faced physical abuse, and were forced to engage in telecoms fraud. 

In recent years, it has been more recent to hear about telecom fraud rings involving Taiwanese when Taiwanese arrested for participating and organizing in such rings are repatriated to Taiwan, rather than China, with allegations that this constitutes a form of extrajudicial kidnapping. However, more recent incidents involving unwitting victims forced to participate in telecoms fraud rings. 

Yet this being the case, the root causes of the issue run deeper in Taiwanese society than simply returning to actions by organized crime. Namely, it is the dismal salaries facing members of society, who work long hours for little pay–it would require an individual to not drink and eat for more than twelve years to save enough to be able to purchase real estate in Taipei–that seems to be pushing individuals into traveling to Cambodia or other countries with the promise of lucrative reward. As such, while efforts can be made to crack down on human trafficking operations in Taiwan, the systemic roots of the issue will prove harder to solve. Unfortunately, Taiwan may be far from committing to addressing the issue of income inequality. 

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