Humanity Research Consultancy to investigate scamming compounds in Laos and Dubai

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February 29, 2024
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Humanity Research Consultancy (HRC) has begun a new project with USAID Asia Counter Trafficking in Persons (CTIP), in collaboration with USAID Laos CTIP, to investigate scamming compounds in Asia regions that are less understood and discussed, such as Laos and Dubai.

In the last year, many victims have informed HRC about the urgent need for increased understanding of scamming compounds in countries other than Cambodia and Myanmar, which are currently the most reported on. In July 2023, a victim supported directly by the HRC team to leave the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone in Laos shared that in his scamming ‘company’, he observed multiple nationalities of scammers. He revealed that while some were criminals who voluntarily joined the operations, many were trafficked victims, from countries including Egypt, India, Pakistan, Thailand, Spain, U.S., Brazil, and many other Chinese-speaking nationals from countries such as China, Taiwan, Malaysia.

There are also several Taiwanese escapees who have spoken in the media about escaping scamming compounds in Dubai. Testimonies from survivors also suggest that Dubai is one of the earliest scamming hubs to be using forced labour. For example, one high-profile survivor described that some victims he met in Myanmar compounds had been sold for 9 years and shifted between compounds in Dubai, the Philippines, and other countries. Frontline rescue teams have shared many videos of victims jumping out of buildings in Dubai to escape compounds or to commit suicide. In several telegram groups used by criminals, the members amount to numbers in the tens of thousands, suggesting the scale of the scamming activities.

So far, however, the full extent of the scamming compounds in Laos and Dubai, and the degree of human trafficking that is present in them, remains largely unknown to international authorities, the counter-trafficking community, and the general public. This project aims to fill this knowledge gap by uncovering zones within which scamming compounds are found in Laos and Dubai, estimating the number of existing compounds, identifying trafficking routes, documenting criminal tactics, and profiling the victims both in the compounds and of the scams.

Investigative efforts will include the use of open-source intelligence techniques, utilising satellite imagery, social media, and user-generated content from platforms such as Telegram, Douyin, and WeChat. Given that the criminals are mainly Mandarin-speaking, with much more information available in this language, the investigation will be conducted mainly in Mandarin, alongside other relevant languages. The project will culminate in a briefing, alongside a webinar where we will share our findings.

We aim for this project to increase awareness of human trafficking into scamming compounds in lesser-known regions in Asia, and lead to affirmative action from the relevant authorities in prosecuting criminals and countering this crime. The investigation is expected to serve as another source for regional coordination and collaboration as countries become aware of how their citizens are victims of the transnational criminal network.