Chinese cyber slave
Chinese cyber slave claim he was forced to scam people online. Pexels

Survivors of cyber slavery in South Asia have spoken out about the horrific conditions they endured while allegedly being forced to operate online scams from behind barbed wire fences in prison-like buildings.

Trafficked by Chinese gangs, Pakistans are forced to scam at least five Americans daily, facing beatings and starvation if they failed - a horrific reality that's recently been revealed by a recent U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) report.

The report showed a concerning trend: One in four Americans has lost money to scams, with a median individual loss of $500. Lured by social media ads promising good wages and comfort, the report shared the story of two men who were trapped in a nightmarish Cambodian scam centre alongside 1,000 others.

A shocking United Nations report revealed that over 200,000 people are being forced to carry out romance investment scams and crypto fraud, held captive against their will. Experts warn of an "explosion" of human trafficking fueled by criminal rings.

This global scourge ensnares victims worldwide and lines the pockets of Chinese gangs to the tune of $3 trillion annually. In March, Interpol secretary-general Jurgen Stock said: "Driven by online anonymity, inspired by new business models and accelerated by COVID, these organised crime groups are now working at a scale that was unimaginable a decade ago."

Lured by Lies: How Traffickers Exploit Victims

According to Stock, £1.60 to 2.40 trillion ($2 trillion to $3 trillion) in illicit funds are laundered through the global financial system annually. He further highlighted the profitability of organised crime, stating that a single group can rake in £40 billion ($50 billion) a year.

Chinese gangs lure victims with fake job ads promising high salaries and ideal conditions – a trap that ensnared two Pakistani men, Ali and Ahmad (last name withheld). Driven by the economic struggles of their homeland, Ali and Ahmad desperately sought escape through a job posting for digital marketing positions.

"I didn't think twice about the offer. They promised to give me a monthly salary of $1,200, and they'll refund all my expenses, including visa fees and air ticket," Ali told the International Justice Mission (IJM). To secure the promised jobs in Cambodia, they borrowed a hefty £3202.28 ($4,000) each from their families to purchase tourist visas.

Confined to a cramped room with 60 to 80 others, all victims of the same cruel deception, Ali and Ahmad surrendered their passports and phones. "If we break any rules, they will deduct $50 for each violation," Ali said.

Driven by desperation, Ali made a reckless attempt - a phone call, an email to our embassy, anything to alert someone. Much to his dismay, it failed, and his punishment was swift and brutal. Physical blows rained down as punishment, and the manager broke his phone.

The promised $1,000 monthly salary quickly vanished, with payments ceasing by the third month. When Ali expressed his desire to resign, his boss demanded the impossible: recruit two more victims to replace himself.

"The manager pressured the workers to meet their targets. If they try to escape or resist, they will be starved and beaten as punishment," Ali said. "And if they don't meet the quota, corresponding fines are deducted from their salary."

Breaking Free: Hope and Resistance

Despite the gnawing guilt of stealing from others, Ali felt trapped. He had no choice but to comply. A flicker of hope emerged when another worker, defying the odds, managed to contact the Cambodian police hotline. This brave act triggered a raid, freeing Ali, Ahmad, and five others from their nightmarish ordeal.

"Going out from the compound was like seeing the light at the end of the tunnel – it was the best thing that happened to me," Ali said.

Ali and Ahmad's story, which emerged last month, sheds light on a disturbing trend. While the Indian government recently rescued 250 citizens from forced labour in Cambodian cyber-scam centres, reports suggest over 5,000 Indians remain trapped.

Like Ali and Ahmad, many victims are young, tech-savvy college graduates. This crisis extends beyond national borders. Chinese authorities, facing the embarrassment of a growing problem, are taking action behind the scenes to capture criminals.

Fears of being duped or kidnapped into these cyber schemes are discouraging ordinary Chinese citizens from travelling to Southeast Asia.