India’s government says it has rescued about 130 Indians who were forced to work in Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia after they were lured by agents who had offered well-paying job opportunities in the information technology sector that turned out to be fake.
Arindam Bagchi, the Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson, said on Friday the rescued Indian workers had been held captive and forced to commit cyber-fraud for companies engaged in digital scamming and forged cryptocurrencies.
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The companies appeared to be operating through agents in Dubai, Bangkok and some Indian cities and were recruiting Indian workers through social media advertisements for fake, highly lucrative jobs in Thailand, he said.
Many of the workers were taken illegally across the border into an area of Myanmar that is difficult to access because of the local security situation, Bagchi said.
He said nearly 50 workers have been brought back to India from Myanmar, while some others were still in police custody in Myanmar for questioning because they entered the country without visas.
He said 80 other Indian workers have been rescued from Cambodia and Laos.
Last month, MK Stalin, the top elected official of India’s southern Tamil Nadu state, said in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi that 300 Indians, including about 50 Tamils from the state, were being held captive in Myanmar.
Citizens of other countries in the region have suffered in similar scams, including in Cambodia where an Al Jazeera investigation in July uncovered a sophisticated web of firms involved in luring workers into slave-like conditions to labour in online scams.
The investigation by Al Jazeera’s 101 East found Chinese, Thais, Vietnamese, Indonesians, Malaysians, people from Myanmar, and others from further afield – entrapped in cyber-scam operations across Cambodia.
On Thursday, 21 Malaysians that were rescued from human traffickers in Cambodia and Laos were returned home.
Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said the government has now rescued 273 people out of 401 reported missing in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand.
Most have returned except for 60 still in immigration detention centres in those countries, who are waiting to be processed, he said.
A UN envoy has said the cyber-scam networks, which often have links to transnational organised crime, are set up in countries with weak law enforcement, attracting educated young workers with promises of high earnings.
The workers are then subject to isolation and threats of violence unless they succeed in cheating victims by phone into transferring payments into overseas bank accounts.