CHAING RAI: More than 140 Thais have sought help after being duped by online scam gangs to work in Myanmar’s Shan state since last year, and about 60 have been rescued so far, according to the Consular Affairs Department
Ruj Thammongkol, the department’s director-general, provided the update at a meeting on Wednesday with representatives of other groups seeking solutions to speed up the repatriation of victims.
Participants included Paveena Hongsakul, president of the Paveena Foundation for Children and Women, and officials from the Thai embassy in Yangon, the Chiang Rai Chamber of Commerce and the Migrant Worker Assistance Centre in Chiang Rai.
Many Thais are lured by online advertisements on social media promising higher wages and attractive welfare packages, said Pol Col Sanya Niumpradit, Police Attache of the Royal Thai Embassy in Myanmar.
However, they later became victims of scammers, with their passports taken, he said, adding that many had contacted the embassy for help.
Pym Chaiyasan, first secretary of the embassy, said most of the victims came from Thailand’s northeastern and central regions, and none were Chiang Rai residents.
Amnat Phalapleewan, director of the Thai Nationals Overseas Interests Protection Division of the Consular Department, said most of them reported having been lured to work illegally in Myanmar.
“About 140 people asked us for help but we have been able to repatriate only 63 of them so far,” he said. “The problem is that the rescue process can take about two to three months.”
Establishing an investigation centre to punish those who file false complaints to the division could reduce the rescue process to a few weeks, he said.
An immigration office in Chiang Rai also reported that Thais who were lured by criminals did not cross the border using the Mae Sai immigration checkpoint. Instead, they used natural crossings, which made it hard for officers to track them, it said.
According to a report by The Border Consortium (TBC), 11 out of 18 Thais, aged 20–30 years old, were rescued from call centre gangs from November to January, leaving the rest yet to be rescued.
It said the victims viewed recruitment ads on Facebook, Line and TikTok about working in the Myanmar border town of Tachileik, promising free food and accommodation and high pay.
However, after crossing, they were sent to other cities in Shan state to work for call centre gangs, it said.
Some of them were forced to sign contracts written in the Chinese language, it said, noting that they were abused while some of the women were forced to sell sex.
A similar message came from the Paveena Foundation for Children and Women, which said some of the women were forced to use drugs and became prostitutes while others were held for ransom.