Deceived Migrant Worker is Left Scrambling for a Refund

Nang Kumnour, a 25-year-old migrant worker who tried to enter Thailand last week, is too embarrassed to return home.

A former construction worker in Thailand, Ms. Kumnour was duped out of $200 when a recruitment agency promised her quick, legal passage into Thailand. She never made it across the border, and five people meant to facilitate her passage were arrested Friday on charges of human trafficking.

“My parents warned me it didn’t sound right,” she said Monday in Phnom Penh, clutching a briefcase stuffed with her identity documents.

Ms. Kumnour, who fruitlessly traveled around the capital Monday trying to track down her money, said she doesn’t dare face her parents in Pursat province.

“I thought I was doing it the legal way,” she said, noting her parents borrowed the $200 for her passage to Thailand. “I thought I was paying $200 because everything was going to be quicker.”

About 250,000 migrant workers returned to Cambodia last month after the Thai junta began a crackdown on illegal migrant labor. To help workers return legally, the Cambodian government slashed the price of passports from $124 to $4.

To qualify for the cheaper passport, workers must provide proof of employment in Thailand or obtain a letter of endorsement from one of 40 recruitment agencies enlisted by the government.

Oddar Meanchey Provincial Court charged four men and a woman with human trafficking on Saturday for duping Ms. Kumnour and 50 others out of hundreds of dollars. They remain in pretrial detention.

The accused smugglers claimed to be working for 168 Manpower Supply, one of the agencies enlisted by the government.

Ms. Kumnour said she called a number for 168 Manpower that she heard on a radio advertisement earlier this month. She was directed to a small office in Choam Chao commune in Phnom Penh’s Pur Senchey district.

She paid $200 to the brokers and joined the 50 other workers on a bus outside the office on Wednesday. They were driven to Oddar Meanchey province, where they were caught by police at a pagoda about 400 meters away from a border checkpoint.

“I didn’t realize anything was illegal until they put us all in a guesthouse one night,” Ms. Kumnour said. “They didn’t give us any documents.”

The 168 Manpower office where Ms. Kumnour was picked up last week was closed Monday. A 168 Manpower Supply sign could be seen on the walls inside the building.

Duch Sothearith, president of 168 Manpower, claimed Monday his company only operates out of one office, a larger building about a five-minute drive from the smaller office in Choam Chao.

“We closed all the small offices since February,” he said. “We only have one office these days.”

Mr. Sothearith refused to discuss whether those arrested were working for his company and referred questions to his lawyer, Ty Lin.

Mr. Lin said he was still collecting information and could not comment on the case.

Ms. Kumnour, meanwhile, is staying in a restaurant, where the owners have taken pity on her.

“I’m very depressed now,” said Ms. Kumnour, who wants to have $200 with her before she goes home. “My parents had to borrow the $200 for me.”

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