Tough Crackdown Causes Chinese to Flee Sihanoukville

A crackdown on illegal gambling, online scamming and human trafficking has sparked a mass exodus of Chinese from Sihanoukville
Gaming machines confiscated following raids in Preah Sihanouk province. Kiripost/supplied
Gaming machines confiscated following raids in Preah Sihanouk province. Kiripost/supplied

Scores of Chinese nationals are fleeing Preah Sihanouk following a tough crackdown on online scamming and suspected human trafficking, a senior official said on Friday.

Deputy Governor Long Dimanche said that some people have left, some have been deported, while others have been allowed to stay after being fined. He said he does not have the exact figures of how many Chinese have left.

Dimanche said the deportation of foreigners has been conducted in accordance with immigration laws with the aim of apprehending ringleaders and assisting victims in areas where illegal activities are being investigated or in locations where irregularities relating to labor trafficking have been detected.

“The deportation of foreigners is the result of the verification of work permits and foreigners' identity documents being represented illegally,” Dimanche said. "Persons in violation of labor laws and committing crimes, the law is used to fine or expel them.”

The crackdown and loss of Chinese nationals will have economic effects on the province, he said.

He added that despite the fact that Cambodia has lost revenue because of these “irregularities”, they do not form a “stable source of income”.

He added that law enforcement will need to be strengthened in order to attract new investors who will generate high profits for the economy.

Dimanche said that in preparation for the post-covid economic recovery plan, Sihanoukville has been evolving into a Multipurpose Special Economic Zone. This provides an opportunity to attract investors by cleaning up illegal acts.

“All stuck buildings are being addressed and we can expect good results in the near future,” he said. “The Ministry of Finance and relevant institutions are working together to resolve the issue. An inter-ministerial commission has been established to deal with this issue.”

Economist Ky Sereyvath said the gambling crackdown is primarily about social issues rather than economic concerns. Cambodia faces a backlash from the international community and is being blacklisted for human trafficking.

A crackdown on gambling contributes to preventing the crisis caused by human trafficking because human trafficking is behind it, he noted.

“The casino is a source of money laundering that can generate revenue, but it is illegal and is being underestimated by international partners in Cambodia if all these activities occur,” Sereyvath said.

“Therefore, the crackdown is contributing to the country's reputation to further boost economic growth,” he added.

According to an announcement from Preah Sihanouk Provincial Administration, during a five-day operation from September 13 to 19, Provincial Unity Command discovered 141 illegal immigrants, including 130 Chinese and 11 Vietnamese. They were sent to the Investigation and Enforcement Department of the General Department of Immigration for deportation.

In addition, authorities identified six offenses of illegal gambling, illegal force and torture, illegal possession of weapons, prostitution, human trafficking, and money laundering. It is consistent with the offenses of illegal gambling and the crime of prostitution and human trafficking.