IJM believes that due to the cross-border complexity of forced scamming, a well-coordinated regional response is crucial to addressing the issue – one that involves governments, diplomats, law enforcement agencies and civil society. As traffickers become increasingly adept at thwarting individual government efforts to address the situation, IJM believes the most effective approach to disrupt the transnational organized crime networks lies in a broader response that involves a myriad of stakeholders at the national, regional and global levels.
It has been shown that one of the most successful means of exit is through intervention from diplomatic missions on behalf of their nationals. Diplomatic missions are in a prime position to act as an interlocutor between the victim and the host government. IJM has had the opportunity to engage with some 30 diplomatic missions on forced scamming to share knowledge and information as well as to advocate for nationals in this new area of transnational crime.
Thus, IJM is calling on diplomatic missions in Southeast Asia and beyond to act. Our recommendations are two-prong: recommendations to diplomatic missions on how to support their nationals who have been trafficked and forced into scamming; and recommendations for diplomatic missions to consider raising to their host governments.
Recommendations to Diplomatic Missions for Consular Support
Given the complexity and severity of cyber scam operations in the region, a country’s diplomatic missions across Southeast Asia need to have a focused, concerted response with short and long-term solutions to protect its nationals who are victims – and would-be victims – of cyber scamming.
Initiate a coordinated regional response among a country’s diplomatic missions in Southeast Asian countries
A country’s diplomatic missions in Southeast Asian countries should establish a dedicated communication channel to facilitate the sharing of information and intelligence related to victims of forced scamming. Due to the region’s porous borders with countries where scamming operations are based, as well as the ease of travel between Southeast Asian countries, information-sharing should include details on trafficking networks, routes, suspected perpetrators, and potential victims of forced scamming.
At the regional level, a country’s diplomatic missions can roll out a coordinated public awareness campaign in host countries in collaboration with local partners to educate the public, including its nationals traveling into the region, about the dangers of human trafficking including forced scamming. Such a campaign should be targeted to nationals seeking jobs online and include information on the rights of victims and the available support services at the local diplomatic mission.
Establish a specialized unit/focal point within a diplomatic mission
A specialized unit or focal point within a diplomatic mission should be designated to focus on protection of their nationals. This unit/ focal point should be officials who are well-versed in local laws and regulations, and be able to quickly avail resources to victims to carry out the following functions:
Provide urgent consular services
- Diplomatic missions should provide emergency travel documents for nationals who are victims of forced scamming to safely return home, within the shortest time possible.
- Diplomatic missions should provide repatriation assistance, waiving the usual fees for flight tickets and travel documents for victims of forced scamming, and arranging the necessary logistics for a victim to return home. Additionally, diplomatic missions should coordinate with relevant government agencies in the host country to ensure that a national of forced scamming is not prosecuted for immigration offenses, and also establish collaborative efforts with NGOs and local authorities in the home country to ensure smooth reintegration of victims into their communities.
- Diplomatic missions should also extend support to an affected national in accessing medical care and providing temporary accommodation.
Enhance victim identification processes
- Officials at the diplomatic mission need to be trained to recognize signs of human trafficking through orientation on the UNODC trafficking indicators and the ILO forced labor indicators.
- Officials should also be trained on conducting victim interviews using a trauma-informed approach to ensure that victims are not retraumatized during the interview process. It is recommended that protocols be established for handling such cases to ensure that victims are treated with compassion, sensitivity, and confidentiality.
Collaborate with local authorities and NGOs
- Diplomatic missions should establish strong partnerships with local law enforcement agencies, government bodies, and civil society organizations working on anti-trafficking efforts both in-country and at the regional level. Such collaborations will help coordinate efforts, share information, and provide comprehensive support to victims.
Support legal assistance
- Diplomatic missios should also collaborate with local legal aid organizations to provide trafficking victims with legal representation, should this service be unavailable within the diplomatic mission itself. A national who is a victim of forced scamming must be informed of their rights and provided information on legal remedies, including the pursuit of criminal prosecutions against traffickers.
- Diplomatic missions, through information-sharing with local law enforcement agencies, should also support victims through their host country’s criminal justice processes to assist in addressing and reducing the prevalence of forced scamming.
- Diplomatic missions should provide access to interpreters if a national who is a victim of forced scamming is detained or arrested by local law enforcement.
- Diplomatic missions could also provide funding to local NGOs working on serving victims of forced scamming through existing grant opportunities.
Recommendations to Diplomatic Missions for Engagement with Host Governments
Advocating for the institutionalization of the non-punishment principle for victims of forced scamming
Trafficked victims of forced scamming often involuntarily commit crimes, and often, unknowingly. It is essential that victims of forced scamming are viewed as victims and survivors, as opposed to criminals, in line with Palermo Protocol Articles 6 and 8, and Articles 14 and 15 of the ASEAN Convention on Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (link further below). Safeguarding the rights of victims ensures that victims are not punished for the conduct of traffickers.
For example, trafficking victims should not be subjected to punishment for immigration offences committed while they were being trafficked to or through another country. IJM recommends that in meetings with the host government’s representatives in the executive, judicial and legislative branches, diplomatic missions raise the non-punishment principle on behalf of their nationals. The non-punishment principle should apply to all stages of the criminal justice system, including in all legal proceedings.
Advocating for policy reforms
IJM recommends that in engagement with the host government, diplomatic missions continue to raise the impact of forced scamming on its nationals to the host government, and advocate for robust national anti-trafficking legislation and policies that includes adequate victim identification, referral and protection. This would contribute to a deeper understanding by host governments on the impact of forced scamming on foreign nationals through the added lens of bilateral diplomatic ties.
Advocating for increased cooperation between law enforcement
IJM recommends that diplomatic missions raise the necessity of formal and informal cooperation between law enforcement agencies in Southeast Asian countries. Cooperation should include the exchange of information on the specific means and methods used by (suspected) perpetrators of forced scamming, joint intelligence centers, databases, and secure communication channels. This would enable the timely exchange of information on forced scamming.
Enhance border security measures
Diplomatic missions could also advocate to host governments on the need for law enforcement agencies to cooperate across borders on border patrols, improving surveillance technologies, and increasing the capacity of border checkpoints to detect and prevent illicit activities. Additionally, diplomatic missions could also draw attention to the need for an increase in the number of trained law enforcement personnel and for the establishment of an effective regional referral mechanism to ensure that victims are identified, protected, and provided with the necessary support services.
Capacity development is essential for law enforcement personnel to effectively combat transnational crimes, which diplomatic missions could also promote to host governments, encouraging host countries to invest in training programs that focus on building the skills and capabilities of law enforcement agencies in areas such as intelligence gathering, investigation techniques, and legal frameworks for cross-border cooperation. This could be achieved through bilateral and multilateral training programs, workshops, and exchanges of best practices.
Advocating for an ASEAN response
As the definition of a human trafficking victim differs from State to State within ASEAN, the protection of nationals who are victims of forced scamming in ASEAN Member States is also a challenge. IJM recommends that diplomatic missions urges ASEAN to advocate that victim identification and victim screening processes be standardized across ASEAN Member States using ASEAN’s own policy products, to prevent nationals from being charged with immigration offenses and to be treated as victims:
- To urgently operationalize the 2023 ASEAN Leaders’ Declaration on Combating Trafficking in Persons Caused by the Abuse of Technology, including for the relevant ASEAN Sectoral Bodies to develop strategies against criminal use of technology in trafficking-in-persons
- For the full implementation and function of the National Representatives for the Implementation of ASEAN Convention Against Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (ACTIP), or National ACTIP Representatives
- For the full implementation of the ASEAN Handbook on International Legal Cooperation in Trafficking in Persons Cases
- For the full implementation of the ASEAN Plan of Action Against Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children
IJM will be pleased to work with diplomatic missions on any of the above points to support the diplomatic mission in its efforts to continue to protect its nationals who are victims of forced scamming.
For more information or to set up a meeting, please contact: Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu, Senior Lead, Advocacy, APAC Forced Labor Slavery Hub at email@example.com.