As Workers Stream Back, Gov’t Scrambles to Respond
By | June 21, 2014

More than 1 percent of Cambodia’s population has returned from Thailand since the country’s military took power in a coup d’etat late last month, fleeing a regime intent on cleaning the country’s labor force of illegal immigrants.

Some 200,000 Cambodians, most citing rumors of arrest and violence by the Thai army toward illegal migrant workers, have left or been forced out of their jobs and found their way back across the border.

A woman carries her daughter on her lap after getting off the truck at the Poipet international checkpoint. (John Vink)

A woman carries her daughter on her lap after getting off the truck at the Poipet international checkpoint. (John Vink)

At the Poipet border crossing, where the vast majority of workers have re-entered the country, the government has shown unusual efficiency, sending soldiers and military trucks to tend to exhausted workers and send them back to their home provinces. Volunteers with the Cambodian Red Cross, Scouts and other youth groups have provided a steady supply of food and water.

Though the Labor Ministry places the number of Cambodian workers in Thailand at about 90,000, estimates from rights groups and the Thai government place the number at more than 400,000. Facing limited job prospects and low wages at home, Thailand’s robust economy has been a magnet for impoverished Cambodians.

Cambodian migrant workers arrive at the Poipet border crossing in Banteay Meanchey province. (John Vink)

Cambodian migrant workers arrive at the Poipet border crossing in Banteay Meanchey province. (John Vink)

“If you do the same job in Cambodia and in Thailand, you earn about three times the salary in Thailand,” said Tun Sophorn, national coordinator for the International Labor Organization. Employers in Thailand also offer benefits, such as free meals and lodging, that aren’t provided in Cambodia. Over the past five years, Mr. Sophorn said, sophisticated recruitment networks have been formed to bring illegal Cambodian workers into the Thai labor force.

For Cambodians, going through the legal process to emigrate into Thailand is often prohibitive. “If you were to go through legal channels, you may take a longer time and spend more money than if you go through illegal channels,” Mr. Sophorn said. “That is why you have such a large undocumented population [of Cambodian workers] in Thailand.”

Workers on board a truck headed back to their home provinces after returning from Thailand. (John Vink)

Workers on board a truck headed back to their home provinces after returning from Thailand. (John Vink)

Now that about half of this migrant population is back in the country, the government is facing the challenge of what do with almost a quarter of a million people who had been making relatively good money and supporting their families through their jobs. “The government has to fulfill their obligation to respond to people who now don’t have the means to feed their family,” said Thun Saray, president of local rights group Adhoc.

“I think it will be hard to find jobs for 200,000 people. It’s hard because they left their country because they could not find work. Now when they are back it is hard for them,” he said. “That is the big job for the government.”

meyn@cambodiadaily.com

© 2014, The Cambodia Daily. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced in print, electronically, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without written permission.

LATEST

Phnom Penh Governor Pa Socheatvong and municipal police chief Chuon Sovann hosted a ceremony at Olympic Stadium on Wednesday to award about $25 to each of the city’s police for keeping order in the year following last July’s disputed national election.

After eight months of confinement and rape—and two forced abortions—Ratha, then 17, says she escaped from the home of the Chinese man she had been sold to and found her way to the Cambodian Consulate in Guangzhou.

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said Wednesday that the government will cooperate with the CNRP to review the country’s immigration laws and provide estimates of the number of Vietnamese migrants in Cambodia once the opposition’s 55 lawmakers swear into office.

Eight years ago, Lo Koon Piu left Hong Kong to set up a garment factory in Kandal province, leaving behind his family. Living more than 1,000 km from home, the owner of Wing Ying garment factory struggles to stay focused on his business.

Initial hearings opened Wednesday in the second phase of the trial against two of the most senior surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, who are being tried on charges ranging from genocide to forced labor and other crimes against humanity.

The Cambodia Daily | All the News Without Fear or Favor | The Daily Newspaper of Record Since 1993