GENEVA, Aug. 29 (Xinhua) -- Citing "credible sources," the United Nations Human Rights Office said on Tuesday that at least 120,000 people across Myanmar and around 100,000 in Cambodia are being forcibly engaged by organized criminal gangs to work in online scam centers.
According to the report, other states in the south-east Asian region, such as Laos, the Philippines and Thailand, have also been identified as main countries of destination or transit, where at least tens of thousands of people have been involved in illegal online operations, such as romance scams, crypto fraud or online gambling.
The scam centers in the region generate billions of U.S. dollars in revenue each year, the report said, adding that most people trafficked into online scam operations are men, although women and adolescents are also among the victims.
The report said that many of the victims are well-educated, computer-literate and multilingual, sometimes coming from professional jobs or with graduate or even post-graduate degrees.
According to the report, when COVID-19 pandemic restrictions decreased the turnovers of casinos in the past years, operators in many countries moved their gambling business to less regulated spaces, including conflict-affected border areas and the increasingly lucrative online space.
People spending more time online also made them more susceptible to become online fraud schemes targets and to fraudulent recruitment, the report said.
The victims usually face a range of serious violations and abuses, and many have been subjected to torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, arbitrary detention, sexual violence and forced labour, it said.
"People who are coerced into working in these scamming operations endure inhumane treatment while being forced to carry out crimes," UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk said, calling them also victims.
"In continuing to call for justice for those who have been defrauded through online criminality, we must not forget that this complex phenomenon has two sets of victims," he added.
Online scams, or known as internet scams or telecom fraud, has been a chronic social problem for years not only in Asia. According to China's Ministry of Public Security, an increasing number of telecom fraud organizations have moved their dens out of China to avoid police crackdowns in recent years.
Since the beginning of this year, Chinese police have launched joint operations with police forces from the Philippines, Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos, and captured more than 300 suspects of telecom frauds, the ministry said, adding that these cases are still under investigation. ■