Due to the country’s severe economic crisis, many Sri Lankans decided to seek employment overseas last year, only to find themselves stranded in Laos, working for scam call centers at the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Bokeo province.
Sri Lankan publication Daily Mirror reported that over 300,000 Sri Lankans left their country in 2022 looking for better job opportunities as the country battled its worst economic crisis in 70 years. However, many of them fell prey to seemingly lucrative job offers that forced them to work as scammers duping unsuspecting individuals off large sums of money on the internet.
One of the victims who wished to stay anonymous for security reasons shared his experience working as a scammer in Laos’ SEZ and revealed that roughly 100 young Sri Lankan nationals, mostly graduate men, were currently trapped by the same trafficking ring.
He also mentioned that there is an organized group of Sri Lankans based out of Laos and their home country who are responsible for sending citizens along the human trafficking pipeline in Laos’ Golden Triangle.
Most victims were promised a job paying USD 1000 in Thailand, only to be moved to Laos to assume false identities and flirt with wealthy Americans to persuade them to invest in a crypto coin called Tether, or other fraudulent platforms, to siphon off their money. Their passports were also seized by the scam centers so that they couldn’t escape.
The interviewee also told the publication that the scam centers in SEZs were run from self-contained condominiums with access to various hacking softwares and improved translation software to target men in their late 30s or above on popular dating apps or websites.
According to the victim, the center also trained its staff on how to sweet-talk their victims, ranging from inquiring about their hobbies to convincing them to install the Telegram app, not widely used in the US, to continue duping them.
He added that employees who failed to complete their tasks were faced with mental and physical punishments, “When they fail to meet the daily targets, they are forced to work for 20 hours a day, while some of them were even meted out physical punishments, such as 100 squats, 100 push-ups, and even electric shocks.”
The ‘Trafficking in Persons Report’ by the US Government in 2022 acknowledged that, “Victim protection services were disproportionately unavailable in Laos to male victims of trafficking, and anti-trafficking awareness and capacity among border officials in key transit areas remain low despite ongoing government training initiatives.”
In 2022, citizens of countries including Nepal, India, Pakistan, Malaysia, and the Philippines were rescued from Laos through numerous government interventions. Australia also issued a travel advisory cautioning its citizens from visiting Bokeo province.