Southeast Asian nations vowed Wednesday tougher action on human trafficking as criminals increasingly use social media and other online platforms to recruit and exploit victims.
International alarm is growing over internet scams in the region that are often staffed by trafficking victims tricked or coerced into promoting bogus crypto investments.
Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar have emerged as “countries of destination” for victims, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) regional bloc, which is meeting in Indonesia this week, adopted a declaration pledging to “strengthen cooperation and coordination” to catch traffickers and identify victims.
ASEAN said criminals increasingly “use and abuse” social media and other online platforms to profile, recruit and exploit victims as well as launder the proceeds of the crime.
Among other things, the member countries agreed to boost the capacity of law enforcement and other agencies to investigate, collect data and evidence of trafficking, exchange information and conduct joint operations.
“I’d like to emphasise that the crime of human trafficking must be completely eradicated from the upstream to downstream,” Indonesian President Joko Widodo said Monday, ahead of the 9-11 May summit on the tropical island of Flores.
The IOM has said most people trafficked into these illegal online operations came from around Asia -- including from Vietnam, India and Bangladesh -- but some were from as far away as Brazil and Kenya.
Victims tended to be “middle-class graduates who have limited employment opportunities” at home, Itayi Viriri, IOM regional spokesman for Asia Pacific, told AFP in February.
The scam centres were involved in online gambling, cryptocurrency, online money lending and romance applications, Viriri said.
Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs Mahfud MD said Tuesday traffickers posing as job recruiters would face heavy punishment.
“Based on our inspection, they would usually send the people in a large number of 100 or 200 people without proper documents,” Mahfud said.
In the past year, Indonesia has rescued more than a thousand of its nationals working in online scams in Myanmar and Cambodia.
Philippine authorities recently rescued over a thousand people from several Asian nations who were trafficked into the country and also forced to run online scams.