Humanity Research Consultancy

From Cambodia to Ethiopia: How media coverage and collaboration saved the life of an Ethiopian human trafficking victim

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October 17, 2022

Through a media report, a cyber scam victim from Ethiopia was evacuated from Cambodia after the family contacted HRC to facilitate her safe return home.

It all began when a worried family in Ethiopia contacted a Germany-based Deutsche Welle (DW) reporter after reading their story on human trafficking in Cambodia published last month. The story reported how foreign nationals were being trafficked to Cambodia through online scams, trapped, and subjected to torture — even death. Since HRC was the primary source of the DW article and supported the safe repatriation of cyber scam victims out of Cambodia, the journalist then asked the family to seek help from HRC.

The family’s close relative, who was a victim of such a scam, managed to escape the compound but was stranded in Cambodia because she had overstayed her visa. Her penalty for overstaying was over $900, and she feared she could be arrested if she approached the Cambodian authorities.

Cambodia’s immigration and police authorities have been in the news for human rights abuses of victims rescued from Cambodia’s scamming compound. Police indulge in systematic corruption and extort money from victims of human trafficking who are detained for overstaying their visas. They are forced to pay hundreds and thousands of dollars in bribes for bedding and food and return home. 

Once the family got in touch with HRC, HRC immediately swung into action. HRC contacted a partner organisation, Global Anti Scam Organisation (GASO), which helped transport the victim to a safer location. HRC then guided the victim to book flight tickets before proceeding to the immigration authorities to pay her fine.

HRC’s founder, Mina Chiang, said, “many rescued victims are already traumatised, and therefore guidance and companionship at every step helps greatly. The system is corrupt, so any slip on the victim’s part might get them in trouble.” 

Chiang also added that from a humanitarian point of view, victims of human trafficking should not have to pay for the overstaying fine when they were being held captive. However, in practice, contesting with the Cambodian immigration department is extremely difficult. Unless the situation changes, HRC suggests survivors pay the overstay fine as soon as possible and leave Cambodia on the earliest possible date. “It’s also important to demonstrate the flight ticket booking evidence before visiting the immigration department to pay the fine. This is to avoid being detained or other potential trouble.”

The survivor is now reunited with her family but is determined to raise awareness of the issue of Ethiopian nationals being trapped in cyber scams. “I’ve heard that many young Ethiopians are now working for a similar company (scamming) in Southeast Asia, with similar job offers. That’s terrible. With your assistance, I hope to be active in raising awareness when I return to my home country.”

The Ethiopian survivor’s case illustrates what HRC has been emphasising – thousands of victims from other nationalities could be trapped in similar conditions. 

Chiang added, “this was one of the successful cases when the victim could leave Cambodia smoothly and was not detained or delayed because of lack of funding. It was also a good example of how media coverage can amplify a pressing human rights issue and how collaboration between various stakeholders at the grassroots can save lives.”

At the moment, several victims, including another Ethiopian victim HRC are assisting, are still searching for financial support to be able to leave Cambodia. Support from international organisations is urgently needed for victims with similar conditions. “The fear of what awaits them back home and a lack of funds for a ticket and a visa fee are why my other friends want to stay here,” said the Ethiopia survivor who has now returned to Addis Ababa.

“What you did for me was also heart-touching. I almost lost trust in people after witnessing how human beings can negatively affect the lives of other human beings for personal gain. You healed my heart and showed me that there are still good people in the world. You inspire me to never lose faith in humanity again.”