Exploitation, misery drove Vietnamese workers to flee hellish Cambodian casinos

By Ngoc Tai   August 19, 2022 | 08:31 pm PT
Whenever she closes her eyes, Doan Thi Ngoc Diep sees water and hear the sounds of batons banging on people.

Diep is among a group of 40 Vietnamese who swam across a river from Cambodia to Vietnam on Thursday morning to escape from a casino where they were tricked into working and which they described as "hell."

There were 42 escapees, but one was caught by the casino guards and another is missing.

"None of us could sleep last night, it was too traumatizing," Diep, 20, told VnExpress Friday.

She and her husband are staying with the rest at a communal house in An Giang Province in southern Vietnam after fleeing the casino in Cambodia's Kandal Province.

Doan Thi Ngoc Diep (R) at the camp of An Giang Provinces border guard. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Tai

Doan Thi Ngoc Diep (R) at a camp of An Giang Province in southern Vietnam. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Tai

The casino, managed by Chinese nationals, stands along the Binh Di River, a natural border that is around 70 meters wide during the rainy season between Cambodia and Vietnam.

The Vietnamese had planned the escape over two nights, making their move in the morning when the casino’s gates are open and there are only seven or eight managers on duty.

Diep said after working for an hour, at around 10 a.m., the group ran toward the doors. Strong young men were in front to attack the guards and create an opening for the women to escape.

Another group of young men were at the back, throwing Molotov cocktails at the guards.

The guards were taken by surprise at first, but it took just a minute for "muscular" men to show up with iron rods and chase after the Vietnamese, who were "running for our lives."

One of them was caught while the rest jumped into the river. Some of them do not know swimming but jumped in anyway, and were helped by the others to reach the other side.

They managed to reach the Long Binh border guard station unscathed and were then transferred to the communal house where they have received care and will be questioned by the police.

The Vietnam's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has asked Cambodian authorities to help investigate the case.

40 people swim to Vietnam after escaping from Cambodian casino, August 18, 2022. Video by VnExpress/Ngoc Tai, Loc Chung

"It was hell," Diep said of her four months at the casino.

"We were tricked and sold to Cambodia."

The woman from the northern Cao Bang Province said she and her husband went to work at a factory in Bac Ninh three years ago, but the income was not enough and so they decided to quit in April to look for another job.

They looked for job advertisements on Facebook, and found one that promised VND25 million (US$1,070) a month.

"The brokers said it was a computer job in air-conditioned rooms."

The couple were attracted by the money, which was four times what their previous job paid, and packed their bags and took a bus as the brokers instructed.

Diep said they traveled for three days and switched buses five times before they reached Cambodia.

Their days of being threatened and exploited started then.

In the first month Diep was instructed to use fake accounts online to trick people into putting money into dating games.

She said she was scamming people but "if I didn't do it, I would be beaten, my life would be at risk."

She was required to earn VND300 million a month from the scams, and after failing to do that for several months she was warned she would be sent to an "electrocution room."

That forced her to work 14 hours a day.

She had hesitated when she heard of the escape plan since her captors had promised to release her in another two months.

She thought about it for a while and came to the conclusion she was likely to be sold to another casino or even killed.

She said she and many others joined the escape attempt with one thought: "We'd rather die at home."

Exploitation drive Vietnamese workers to escape from hell casinos in Cambodia - 1

Pham Nguyen Anh Tuan recalls the moment when a casino guard hit him on the head with a stick. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Tai

Pham Nguyen Anh Tuan, 30, was the person who initiated the escape plan.

He said he had taken the casino job in the hope of clearing his gambling debts.

"But they did not say the job would be in Cambodia; they said it was in Tay Ninh [on the Cambodian border].

"And I did not think that the job would be to scam people."

Tuan did not earn enough money from the scams in the initial months and so was sold to different bosses.

He worked for his third boss for four months and managed to get paid, but was angry that other Vietnamese were being exploited and even tortured.

One of the Vietnamese had fallen sick and could not earn much money for the casino, and so the Chinese boss planned to sell them.

Tuan asked the boss to let that person go home, promising that he and the other Vietnamese would pay for his release. But the man rejected his offer, saying he and the others were in no position to negotiate.

He was upset and discussed escaping with the rest. While some agreed to make a run for it, others said they would help.

"Besides the one who went missing and the other who was caught, we are very worried for the people who helped us escape," Tuan said.

Many Vietnamese are tricked into going to Cambodia to work for casinos and other similar places where they are often exploited.

If they want to return to Vietnam, they have to pay the casinos up to $30,000, authorities said.

In the first half of this year Vietnamese and Cambodian authorities collaborated to rescue over 250 such people.

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