A Cambodian man has been arrested and charged with human trafficking for sending 19 students to China who were promised scholarships to study fashion and design, but ended up working seven days a week at a garment factory.
Police and the NGO that helped with the case, however, gave conflicting information about whether some of the students were still stuck in China and whether the local company that sent them abroad was licensed.
Inn Simanann, owner and director of the Ipat institute, was arrested late last year after a complaint from seven of the eight students who returned to Cambodia in June, said So Vandy, deputy director of the Interior Ministry’s anti-human trafficking department, on Sunday. He said Mr. Simanann was charged under the anti-human trafficking law by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court and was awaiting trial at Prey Sar Prison.
“Those students said they were forced to work at the factory and did not study fashion and design like the director of the Ipat institute promised them they would,” he said. “All 19 students had paid Inn Simanann $2,500 to study.”
Mr. Vandy said Mr. Simanann’s company had been operating without a license and was shut down. “This is the first time that a case like this has happened,” he added. “Now we are investigating the case because we want to rescue the other students who were sent to China.”
He said his department was working with the Foreign Affairs Ministry to repatriate the other 11 students. A spokesman for the ministry could not be reached for comment.
Chab Dai, the anti-human trafficking NGO that has helped with the case, said on Sunday that all 19 students had returned to Cambodia.
“Chab Dai helped and worked with 19 students, the eight who escaped [and] ran to the [Cambodian] consulate, and then the consulate and the students together helped the rest of the students. So that all 19 students could go back to Cambodia,” Chab Dai adviser Nadia Jung said via email.
She also said that the Ipat institute was licensed.
Ms. Jung agreed with the anti-human trafficking police, however, that the case was unusual.
“[N]ormally you would say that victims of trafficking mainly are vulnerable, poor, uneducated people. But here they choose a group of well-educated students. This is not at all normal,” she said. “Hopefully this method will not develop, but it is always difficult to say.”
Chab Dai did not specify when each of the students had left Cambodia or when they returned. One of the students told the NGO that he left in December 2015 and returned in June, after fleeing to the Cambodian Consulate in Shanghai.
Representatives for Mr. Simanann and the Ipat institute could not be reached.
According to a statement about the case released by Chab Dai last week, the students were promised places on four-year programs at China’s Yantai Nanshan University. But upon arrival, they said, they were put to work at a garment factory and given only one or two hours of Chinese language instruction.
The university is owned and operated by the Nanshan Group, a Chinese conglomerate that operates a subsidiary which makes fabrics and garments.