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Scam brokers nabbed at Phnom Penh airport

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Would-be migrant workers talk to police after being prevented from flying to South Korea on Saturday night. Photograph: supplied

Four brokers accused of duping 19 victims out of thousands of dollars for non-existent jobs in South Korea were arrested at Phnom Penh International Airport on Saturday.

Keo Thea, chief of Phnom Penh’s anti-human trafficking and juvenile protection department, said Por Sen Chey district police arrested Lok Sido, 32, Kuch Sopha, 35, Puth Sophal, 26, and Meng Savun, 28, after one of the victims filed a complaint at a nearby police station when the promised flight to South Korea never arrived.

“According to victims, some of them spent from US$1,000 up to $2,000 on brokers seeking jobs and preparing documents,” he said.

One of the 19 victims said yesterday they arrived at the airport on time to board a flight as instructed by brokers.

“But we waited for a long time – no flight. We called the brokers but they said the flight maybe had been postponed. We stopped believing them and decided to file a complaint to the police on the same day,” he said.

Moeun Tola, head of the labour program at the Community Legal Education Center, said brokers regularly exploiting Cambodians seeking jobs in South Korea are assisted by false promises plastered on billboards advertising training centres.

“The worker needs to go to the Ministry of Labour but the billboard of the South Korean training schools really confuse people – that you just pay $50 and then you can go to work in Korea,” he said.

Tola said the ministries of labour and education should review the licensing of such facilities. Neither ministry could be reached for comment yesterday.

The arrests came three days after South Korea implemented controversial new legislation aimed at curtailing migrant worker exploitation that rights groups say may have the opposite effect.

On August 1, South Korea enacted a new Measure for Improvement in Foreign Workers’ Change of Workplaces and Prevention of Broker Intervention policy aimed at reducing the frequency of migrant employees changing jobs.

Rights groups including Amnesty International, the Asia Pacific Mission For Migrants and the International Forum for Democracy and Cooperation have said the policy leaves migrants with nowhere to go if they find themselves in exploitative working conditions.

Where in the past migrant workers seeking to change jobs were provided a list of labour-seeking businesses, businesses will be provided a list of job-seeking workers.

Amnesty International said in a statement late last month that if the migrant workers did not find a new job within three months, “they will lose their work visa, thus risking arrest, imprisonment and deportation”.

Questions have also been raised over how the policy’s aim of curtailing exploitation by providing lists of workers rather than businesses will actually help, given that brokers could find the new list just as, if not more, useful.

To contact the reporters on this story: Sen David at david.sen@phnompenhpost.com
David Boyle at david.boyle@phnompenhpost.com

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