In a recent government inquiry, it was revaled that an increasing number of university-educated individuals are falling prey to slavery schemes. These fraudulent schemes tempting victims with the promise of well-paid jobs in Thailand. Upon arrival, these individuals are made to work exhaustive hours in online scam centres, often pressurised to commit transnational crimes through dating apps.
Lyn Bell, Australia’s Ambassador to Counter Modern Slavery, People Smuggling and Human Trafficking, shed light on an escalating human trafficking scam plaguing South-East Asia. She noted the shift in the profile of victims, now including people who are highly educated. To combat this pressing issue, Ms Bell emphasized that Australia is fortifying its domestic efforts, employing the assistance of multiple agencies.
The UN Human Rights Office issued a report late in August revealing that criminal gangs in the Asia-Pacific region have ensnared “hundreds of thousands” of people through meticulously crafted online scams. The report estimates that in Myanmar alone, a minimum of 120,000 people might be entrapped by the alike scams, whilst around 100,000 in Cambodia. This malignant web of deception also stretches to Laos, the Philippines, and Thailand.
The criminal modus operandi involves attractive job offers with high salaries. Once ensnared, the victims find themselves transported to make-shift call centres, where they are coaxed into committing a spectrum of crimes, from crypto fraud to illegal online gambling. An incident in April saw a group of human traffickers in Indonesia penalized for coercing migrant workers to craft fake dating app profiles. These profiles were then used to lure affluent, older individuals residing in countries such as Australia into investing in cryptocurrencies.
Ms. Bell pointed out that globally, over fifty per cent of modern slavery victims are women or girls, resonating a concerning spike in victims possessing tertiary qualifications. With a view to curb this grim reality, efforts are being made by the Australian government to implement an anti-slavery commissioner and introduce reforms to the Modern Slavery Act of 2018.
Emphasising on the human aspect of the situation, Ms Bell stated, “Each statistic represents an actual experience, often painfully endured by women and girls.” She highlighted the government’s commitment to identify changing victim profiles, support needs, and to amplify the voices of victim survivors.
Furthermore, Ms Bell disclosed that she has been expressing concerns about human rights violations to the Chinese government, specifically referencing issues prevalent in Tibet and Xinjiang. She reaffirmed the resolute commitment of the Australian government to remain proactive regionally and globally, in order to address these wide-ranging issues.