Online Gambling and Debt Crisis of Vietnamese Workers in Japan

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In Japan, Vietnamese migrant workers find themselves ensnared in a web of illegal online gambling, a perilous addiction that has devastating consequences. Faced with mounting losses, some resort to loan sharks when traditional sources of borrowing are exhausted.

Perils of Vietnamese Workers in Japan

Huy, a 24-year-old mechanic who ventured to Japan through the Hanoi-based East Sea Trading Service and Labor Export Joint Stock Company, initially thrived in his new environment. However, reports from his Vietnamese colleagues raised concerns about his financial situation. He borrowed incessantly, rarely repaying on time, prompting intervention from his employer.

Despite reassurances from Huy, his family revealed a concerning detail: he hadn't sent money home in six months, a significant departure from his usual practice. ESTRALA administrator Nguyen Thi Thuy Dung expressed skepticism about Huy's explanation, highlighting the incongruity of his actions.

As investigations deepened, Huy confessed to borrowing nearly one million yen (US$6,600) from loan sharks to fuel his online gambling addiction. Earning 200,000 yen monthly, most of Huy's income was siphoned off by these criminal lenders, leaving him with a paltry sum.

Struggling to meet exorbitant interest rates, which can reach a staggering 5% per day, Huy's plight is not an isolated incident. Deputy General Director of ESTRALA, Nguyen The Dai, notes a troubling trend of Vietnamese workers falling prey to online gambling's allure. Once ensnared, they spiral into insurmountable debt, becoming easy targets for loan sharks.

Some workers default and face threats, prompting them to flee back to Vietnam. Others find their families blackmailed with menacing photos, amplifying the cycle of despair. The perpetrators' nationalities remain unclear.

Related: Illegal Gambling's Role in Southeast Asia's Human Trafficking Crisis

Urgent Call for Intervention

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the issue, confining laborers to their homes and creating a surge in online gambling sites. Phan Viet Anh, administrator of an online community for Vietnamese workers in Japan, attests to the growing number of laborers succumbing to gambling addiction.

Families back home bear the brunt, often selling assets to pay off their children's debts to loan sharks. The desperation is palpable, with stories of workers surrendering their identification papers and even submitting explicit material as collateral.

In response, companies like ESTRALA and Haindeco Saigon are taking proactive steps. They're intensifying monitoring efforts and incorporating training to deter workers from online gambling. The consequences for those caught in this perilous cycle are dire, underscoring the urgency of addressing this burgeoning issue before it further impacts the labor export market.

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