Over 300 trapped by Myanmar fighting sent home

THE country said that it had repatriated more than 300 of its citizens from conflict zones in Myanmar, many of them trafficked or tricked into working in online gambling establishments.

They had been trapped by fighting that has raged across Myanmar’s northern Shan State after an alliance of ethnic minority groups launched a surprise offensive against the military in late October.

More than 250 civilians, including children, are feared to have died since the launch of the offensive in October, according to United Nations field reports.

A Vietnamese government website said that 338 people had returned home – many of them young people, including teenagers and infants.

They are the first group of more than 800 Vietnamese nationals set to be repatriated from Myanmar.

“They worked in online gambling establishments in the northern states of Myanmar, being abandoned by their employers and trapped due to fighting between Myanmar military forces and ethnic minorities in that area,” the government website said.

“I am very happy to be back home in Vietnam,” Dang Thi Duyen, among those repatriated, told Vietnam Television after arriving at Hanoi’s main airport early on Tuesday.

Vietnam’s foreign ministry has warned citizens to avoid travelling to Shan State and Karen State unnecessarily, and urged caution about job scams in which swindlers promise high-paying work in foreign countries.

At least 120,000 people are being held in compounds in Myanmar, according to the UN human rights office, with most forced to work scamming their compatriots online.

Blue Dragon, a charity that rescues victims from human trafficking in Vietnam, said the scamming gangs set quotas for how much money each trafficked worker needed to extract from the scam victims, and they are subject to physical punishment and even organ removal if targets are not met.

There are also thought to be around 100,000 people being held in scam compounds in Cambodia. — AFP

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