This is a major operation against human trafficking. Police in the Philippines have rescued 1,090 people who were being held captive and forced to engage in online scams targeting victims in Europe, the United States and Canada, authorities said Saturday (May 6).

The operation took place Thursday in Mabalacat, 90 kilometers north of Manila, said Michelle Sabino, spokeswoman for the Philippine National Police’s cybercrime unit.

“Like prisoners without cells”

The people held captive were mainly of Chinese, Vietnamese and Indonesian nationality, lured to the Philippines by fabulous promises of all kinds, according to the police. But among the 1,090 people freed are also Filipinos, Malaysians, Thais, Taiwanese, Hong Kongers, Burmese and Nepalese.

Upon their arrival, they had their passports confiscated and were forced to work eighteen hours a day before returning to their dormitory, without ever being allowed to leave. “They were like prisoners without cells. They weren’t even allowed to talk to their dorm mates,” Sabino told Agence-France Presse. They were trained to trick strangers into buying cryptocurrencies, or transferring money after establishing fake romantic relationships with the victims.

Twelve people suspected of being at the head of this network have been arrested. They are seven Chinese, four Indonesians and one Malaysian, according to Sabino. In April, Philippine Senator Risa Hontiveros denounced the presence in the country of “fraudulent call centers” employing foreigners who are victims of human trafficking.