Three more Hongkongers have been reported as victims of human trafficking job scams in Southeast Asia, bringing the number of the city’s residents known to be held captive in the region to 11, Hong Kong’s No. 2 security official said on Friday.
The updated figure comes after Hong Kong authorities revealed the day before that eight of the city’s residents who allegedly fell victim to a scam in Myanmar could not be found.
The news also comes amidst concern over the growing number of such scams, which lure victims to Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand and Laos with promises of lucrative job opportunities, only for them to be detained and forced to engage in illegal work. Some reports said such victims have been tortured, sexually assaulted and threatened with organ harvesting.
Speaking on a program on RTHK on Friday, Under Secretary for Security Michael Cheuk said the Security Bureau received requests for assistance for three more Hongkongers between Thursday evening and today (Aug. 19) .
He said one is believed to be in Thailand and the other two in Cambodia.
“According to our understanding, they have regular contact with their families. Their freedoms are restricted, but they are safe,” he said.
Together with the 12 Hongkongers authorities mentioned yesterday who had fallen for the scam but who were already confirmed to be safe — 10 of whom are already back in the city — Cheuk said there have been requests for assistance for 23 Hongkongers in total since January.
They are believed to be, or were, spread across Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand and Laos.
One who has been confirmed to be safe and free by Chinese authorities told Hong Kong’s Immigration Department he did not want to come back to Hong Kong yet, while arrangements are being made for another to return.
The undersecretary said authorities first received the requests for assistance in January, with five cases recorded in the first two months of the year. All five of those Hongkongers have returned to the city.
He said the bureau’s initial understanding is that the Hongkongers who have been scammed into going to the four countries received job recruitment advertisements on social media or online. The job types included working in a casino, helping to buy items online and helping to open bank accounts for organizations.
All contact was done online, with e-tickets to the locations sent to the alleged victims.
The victims who used the tickets were then met at the airport by members of the criminal organizations running the scams before being sent to a place where their movements were restricted and they were forced to conduct phone or online scams, Cheuk said.
“They said if they follow [the instructions] and work, there will not be major issues. But if their work does not meet the target or if they reject work, they are abused or assaulted,” he said.
The undersecretary added that some individuals said they had to scam victims out of a particular target amount in order to obtain their freedoms. If they could not do so, they could contact their families to pay a ransom.
He also said that one of the new cases left Hong Kong as early as last September.
HK01 reported on Thursday that a Hongkonger who is being held captive in Myanmar had tried to return home after landing in Thailand but was unable to do so due to the city’s strict Covid-19 travel rules.
It said he bought a ticket to return to Hong Kong, but was denied boarding as he could not get a booking at one of the city’s designated quarantine hotels — which are in huge demand.
The online portal added that his father tried to seek help from the city’s police and the Department of Health, but did not get a reply. Days later, his son fell into the hands of a criminal organization and is currently detained in Myanmar.
Cheuk said authorities are hoping to get in touch with him, adding they have not received reports about such a case.
Responding to criticism that the government could have been more flexible with its quarantine requirement due to the urgency of the situation, the undersecretary said that the victims have to follow the Covid-19 measures but the relevant authorities can assist them with securing a booking for a quarantine facility.