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South-east Asia human trafficking now a global crisis, Interpol says

SINGAPORE — Organised crime rings who fuelled an "explosion" of human trafficking and cyber scam centres during the pandemic have expanded from South-east Asia into a global network making up to US$3 trillion (S$4 trillion) a year, the head of Interpol said on March 27.

"Driven by online anonymity, inspired by new business models and accelerated by Covid, these organised crime groups are now working at a scale that was unimaginable a decade ago," Interpol secretary-general Jurgen Stock told a briefing at the global police coordination body's Singapore office.

"What began as a regional crime threat in South-east Asia has become a global human trafficking crisis, with millions of victims, both in the cyber scam centres and as targets."

The new cyber-scam centres, often staffed by unwilling staff trafficked with the promise of legitimate jobs, helped organised crime groups diversify their revenue from drug trafficking, Stock said.

Drug trafficking businesses still contributed 40 per cent to 70 per cent of criminal groups' income, he said.

"But we see groups clearly diversifying their criminal businesses using drug trafficking routes also for trafficking of human beings, trafficking of arms, intellectual property, stolen products, car theft," Stock said.

About US$2 trillion to US$3 trillion in illicit proceeds are channelled through the global financial system annually, he said, adding that an organised crime group can make US$50 billion a year.

The United Nations said in 2023 that more than 100,000 people had been trafficked into online scam centres in Cambodia. In November, Myanmar handed over thousands of fugitive Chinese telecommunications fraud suspects to China.

A Reuters investigation in 2023 detailed the emergence in