The Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime

Friday, 20 Jan 2023

RSO bringing together key response actors for discussions on preventing Trafficking in Persons tied to Online Scam Enterprises 

An alarming regional situation around trafficking in persons (TIP) to facilitate online scams, which has grown particularly urgent since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, has been presenting new and unprecedented challenges to law enforcement, policymakers and practitioners working to counter TIP and transnational organized crime across the Indo-Pacific. The issue has been increasingly prominent in discussions with law enforcement and media reporting, with victim stories painting a harrowing picture of their experiences, and the need for a coordinated regional response becoming increasingly apparent.

Responding to this, and in support of Bali Process Member States who have requested addition insights on the issue, the Regional Support Office (RSO) is bringing together expert voices this week to share information on emerging trends, confirm  the extent that these trends mark a departure from traditional TIP patterns, and to look more deeply at their implications for the region. The Dialogue will work to then move forward discussions on how best to respond and to provide a platform for law enforcement and civil society groups working with victims to put forward new ideas for responding.   

A co-ordinated response

Trafficking patterns related to online scams appear to mark a notable departure from those observed prior to the pandemic. Firstly, they upend traditional routes and patterns used by traffickers, with source and destination countries often being the reverse of what had been seen in the past; and secondly, the typical profile of victims is much broader, and generally wealthier and better educated, than has been seen in the past.  

A coordinated regional response is needed to better share knowledge, evidence, and best practices to update understandings of the geography of trafficking.  Similarly, increased capacity building efforts will need to be put in place so that criminal justice officials have the capacity to effectively conduct online investigations and so they share a common vocabulary with tech and social media companies, allowing them to coordinate investigations, use online evidence more effectively, and better ensure harmful posts can quickly be taken down.

Expert voices

Given the importance of the new trends being seen, this Thematic Dialogue brings together Bali Process Membership, alongside a range of experts representing law enforcement, civil society, international organisations, and the tech industry, reflecting the various intersections between online scams and TIP. This unique diversity of voices will provide a nuanced overview of the challenges in responding to trafficking facilitated online scams, as well as offering an opportunity for cross-cutting solutions to be put on the table.

“This Thematic Dialogue has been organized so Bali Process Members have the most up-to-date information on how to respond,” explained RSO Transnational Crime and Technology Programme Manager Ryan Winch. “Given the shifting trafficking patterns underlying these scam enterprises, we’re supporting our members to stay coordinated as they conduct investigations and gather evidence on the activities of transnational organized crime syndicates. The scale of these scam centres really does look to be cause for alarm but I’m hopeful we’ll hear some good ideas on how to respond this week and be able to implement more coordinated, regional responses moving forward.”