Justice served for Indonesian survivors of cyber-scam slavery

Miracle, 45, used to work as a tourist guide in Indonesia, but when her old friend offered her a promising job in Cambodia, she got interested to apply. “My friend asked me to send her my resume. With my ability to speak Mandarin and English, she assured me I could get a better pay than…

Miracle, 45, used to work as a tourist guide in Indonesia, but when her old friend offered her a promising job in Cambodia, she got interested to apply.

“My friend asked me to send her my resume. With my ability to speak Mandarin and English, she assured me I could get a better pay than an average Indonesian worker,” Miracle said.

The offer was an online marketing position with a monthly salary of $US 1,000. It was a huge salary for Miracle. With the job, her dream of saving money and opening a small business would come true soon.

Her old friend, a broker, told Miracle that by working eight hours a day, she would get meals four times a day with free accommodation. Moreover, the agent would pay for the airplane ticket and visa. Equipped with all the offered facilities, Miracle never thought it would be the beginning of a miserable experience in Cambodia.

Forced to create fake social media profile to scam people

“Once we arrived at Cambodia, the employers withheld our passports and phones. Since then, we have never left that place. We ate, slept, and worked at the same compound building,” Miracle recalled the events.

Miracle realized it was not a standard marketing job since she had to create a fake profile on social media to scam people. “I had to introduce myself and pretend that I was rich. I brainwashed innocent people until they trusted me. After I’ve done my part, some real female models would conduct video calls with the targets to gain their trust and invite them to invest in cryptocurrency,” she explained.

Most of the targets were wealthy people between 45 to 90 years old from Europe or Asia. Every day, Miracle was forced to scam three people. If she failed, she would receive physical punishment like forced push-ups.

“I worked more than eight hours a day. I usually start my day early and return to my dorm late at night. If I miss one target, I’ll be forced to do 50 times push-ups. If two missed targets, 100 times push-ups.”

In addition to long working hours and physical punishment, Miracle never received the promised salary. Miracle wanted to escape from the unfair and harsh treatment.  However, whoever wanted to go home would need to pay around $US 2,880 , which was impossible for most workers.

“One of the terrifying scenes I encountered was when the supervisor electrocuted one of my colleagues who made a mistake. I wanted to save him, but I could not do anything,” Miracle recounts.

A miracle rescue

Miracle would never forget that day when she attempted to report her situation to her family. Although her phone was withheld on the first day she arrived in Cambodia, she still had another one under the bed.

Miracle asked her brother to rescue her out from the compound. Her brother and his wife requested help from an UN agency, who then referred them to IJM.

“One day, I spoke to an IJM staff over the phone. I sent a picture of a window in my room with my jacket in it to mark my location. It seemed impossible but I prayed to God that they would find me. Thankfully, the police managed to rescue me and eight other workers with the help of IJM. I could not be happier,” Miracle added.

Later, Miracle and other survivors were evacuated to the Indonesian Embassy in Cambodia. With the support of the Indonesian Embassy, all nine survivors were repatriated back to Indonesia in July 2022.

“Thanks to IJM Cambodia, Indonesian Embassy and the Cambodia Police Department, we were provided with meals, accommodation and return flight tickets via Singapore. When in Singapore, staff from IJM Singapore even welcomed and assisted us until we were back in Indonesia safely. It was a miracle for me. I am forever grateful,” says Miracle.

“I could not imagine what would have happened if the police came late. When I managed to leave the compound with other trafficked victims, I understood the real meaning of freedom,” says Miracle.

Justice finally served

The trafficking case was reported to the police by the Indonesian Embassy. Three perpetrators were subsequently arrested and went on trial in November 2022. IJM through its local partner provided legal assistance to Miracle and other survivors who testified against the perpetrators.

IJM staff and its partners briefed the survivors before the court hearing process.

“Even though it was long and somehow tiring, the perpetrators must receive the punishment as they deserve. There should not be another trafficking victim from Indonesia. Justice must be served,” Miracle hoped.

Thankfully, the Indonesian court has convicted the three perpetrators. The main perpetrator receives four years imprisonment and an IDR 200 million (about $US 13,000 ) fine. She will also pay restitution to all nine victims. The two other perpetrators received three years imprisonment and an IDR200 million fine (about $US 13,000 ). 

Until today, IJM has helped remove and care for over a hundred individuals who we believed had been victims of online scam slavery.  IJM offices in Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, Philippines, and Malaysia proactively coordinate with their government agencies and foreign embassies to help facilitate rescues and repatriation of the victims and connect with partners to provide legal and aftercare support.

Your donation will help rescue and protect more people like Miracle* from cyber-scam slavery and cross-border labour trafficking.

*A pseudonym