Cambodian authorities said the bodies of the final eight missing Chinese migrants from a small fishing vessel that sank last week off the Cambodian coast washed up on a Vietnamese island, bringing the total number of dead from the accident to 11.
Officials in Preah Sihanouk province initially posted photos of the eight on Facebook after they were found on Phu Quoc, which is off the coast of Cambodia in the Gulf of Thailand. The photos were later removed from the social media platform.
The wooden boat, which was carrying 33 Chinese migrants, encountered problems on Sept. 22 near the Cambodian coastal city Sihanoukville, a popular resort town known for its casinos, and capsized. The Chinese aboard had been promised jobs as fishermen.
Twenty-two passengers were rescued by Cambodian authorities and by a fishing boat in Vietnamese waters. Three of the migrants were found dead in the initial aftermath of the accident, while eight remained missing until Thursday.
Sihanoukville is a hotbed for human trafficking, with victims from across the region being tricked into working in the casinos or as online scammers, and sometimes being held against their will by employers. According to an earlier report by AFP, the surviving passengers said they had been promised 10,000 to 20,000 yuan (U.S. $1,405-$2,809) to work in Cambodia for 10-20 days.
Speaking at the 6th National Inter-Faith Forum Against Human Trafficking on Thursday, Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday blamed illegal gambling operations in Cambodia as contributing to rampant human trafficking and pledged tough action in response.
“It is a complicated issue and it doesn’t only happen in Cambodia,” he told attendees at the conference, organized under the theme “Do Not Use Cambodia as a Destination of Trafficking in Persons.”
“If we are not prudent, Cambodia will become a safe haven for criminals to commit crime in our country,” Hun Sen said. “They are using Cambodia as a place to produce drugs and then distribute them to Vietnam, Thailand and other countries.”
Ny Sokha, president of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association, an NGO known as ADHOC, said he welcomed the prime minister’s commitment to fighting human trafficking, but questioned the government’s ability to follow through.
He noted that Hun Sen has made other pledges, such as ending illegal logging in the country, that have not come to fruition.
“Human trafficking is not committed by ordinary poor people, and the justice system in Cambodia must prevent impunity because with impunity and corruption, human trafficking can’t be prevented,” Ny Sokha said.
Interior Minister Sar Kheng told attendees at the conference that the country was working to prevent trafficking, rescue victims and apprehend ringleaders.
“Criminals are committing crimes silently online via cyber-technology and are using other tricks to exploit victims to work overtime [or] to detain, torture and kidnap them,” he said. “Some criminals are armed, and if they are not deterred, they will become a threat to national security in the future.”
As of late August, Cambodian authorities received almost 400 complaints about human trafficking, and authorities had rescued about 400 victims, about 55 of whom had been trafficked, according to Cambodia’s Interior Ministry. The victims were from Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, China, Pakistan, India, Myanmar, the Philippines, the United States, Turkey and South Korea.
At least 43 suspects have been brought to justice, and their operations have been shut down, according to the ministry.
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