Sixteen Lao workers who were held at a Chinese-run casino in Myanmar have returned home to Laos after being held at a police station for two months. The workers claimed they were victims of human trafficking and were forced to work at the Kosai Casino in Myawaddy town near the Thai border.
Family members expressed their relief at the safe return of the workers and thanked the Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Lao Embassy in Myanmar, and Lao anti-human trafficking police for their assistance in securing the workers’ release.
The workers recounted their harrowing experience at the casino, where they were allegedly held against their will, forced to work as scammers, and faced severe punishments for failing to bring in money.
After their release on August 29, the group was detained at a Myanmar police station on charges of illegal entry. The reason for their release is still unclear.
The workers are currently at the border in northwestern Laos’ Bokeo province, where Lao authorities are processing paperwork for their return to their home province of Luang Namtha. The anti-human trafficking unit in Luang Namtha will investigate how the workers were lured into working at the Chinese casino.
A Lao government official confirmed the workers’ arrival at the border and stated that their families would be allowed to pick them up or the authorities would assist in their return to their homes.
Meanwhile, it is reported that the Chinese-backed Yatai Shwe Kokko Special Economic Zone in Myawaddy, where the casino is located, has gained notoriety as a hub for illegal activity, including human trafficking and scams. A report by the Center for Advanced Defense Studies revealed that criminals in the zone operate with almost complete immunity from the law and subject their victims to physical abuse and forced labor.
The return of the Lao workers has been met with relief and plans for celebrations among their families, who are eager to welcome them home.