Hundreds of thousands trafficked to work as online scammers in SE Asia, says UN report


GENEVA (29 August 2023) – Hundreds of thousands of people are being forcibly engaged by organised criminal gangs into online criminality in Southeast Asia – from romance-investment scams and crypto fraud to illegal gambling – a report issued today by the UN Human Rights Office shows.

Victims face a range of serious violations and abuses, including threats to their safety and security; and many have been subjected to torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, arbitrary detention, sexual violence, forced labour, and other human rights abuses, the report says.

“People who are coerced into working in these scamming operations endure inhumane treatment while being forced to carry out crimes. They are victims. They are not criminals,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk.

“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.”

The enormity of online scam trafficking in Southeast Asia is difficult to estimate, the reports says, because of the clandestine nature and gaps in the official response. Credible sources indicate that at least 120,000 people across Myanmar may be held in situations where they are forced to carry out online scams, with estimates in Cambodia similarly at around 100,000. Other States in the region, including Lao PDR, 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.

The scam centres generate revenue amounting to billions of US dollars each year.