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More than 1,000 trafficking victims rescued in separate operations in Southeast Asia

More than 1,000 trafficking victims were rescued in separate operations in Southeast Asia over the last week, officials in Indonesia and the Philippines said. 

Indonesian officials said Sunday they freed 20 of their nationals who were trafficked to Myanmar as part of a cyber scam, amid an increase in human trafficking cases in Southeast Asia. Fake recruiters had offered the Indonesians high-paying jobs in Thailand but instead trafficked them to Myawaddy, about 567 kilometers (352 miles) south of Naypyidaw, the capital, to perform cyber scams for crypto websites or apps, said Judha Nugraha, an official in Indonesia's Foreign Affairs Ministry.

The Indonesian Embassy in Bangkok will work closely with Thai authorities to repatriate the victims to Indonesia, it said in a statement. Myawaddy is in eastern Kayin state along the Thai border and is the site of an armed conflict between Myanmar's military and ethnic Karen rebels.  

The situation drew a national outcry in Indonesia after a video made by one of the victims went viral on social media last month. It showed dozens of grim-faced Indonesian workers in a dormitory room, asking their government to help them out of "the war zone" where they see violence almost every day.

"Please help us back to Indonesia, because our life here is very miserable and threatened," one person said, describing how they had been transferred from one company to other companies over the past eight months before being stranded in Myawaddy. 

The victim said they were tortured when they failed to reach certain work targets, receiving beatings, electrocutions and other physical punishments.

More than 170 trafficking victims rescued in the Philippines during a Thursday night operation are from Indonesia, the Philippine National Police wrote on Facebook. Police, along with other government agencies, rescued 1,090 human trafficking victims in total in Mabalacat City, Pampanga, police said, adding that the victims were from Hong Kong, Indonesia, China, Vietnam, Nepal, Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan, Myanmar and the Philippines.

The victims rescued in the Philippines were also forced into working for a fake cyber industry, officials said. The trafficking victims were made to victimize "their fellow citizens" according to police.

"We will continue to work closely with other agencies to ensure that those who engage in such heinous crimes are held accountable," PNP Chief Benjamin Acorda said. "We must all unite in this fight against human trafficking and help put an end to this inhumane practice."

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