Number of Migrant Worker Repatriations Rising

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has repatriated 578 Cambodian workers during the first nine months of this year, it said in a statement this week, already surpassing the 573 returned last year, which included 427 migrants enslaved on fishing boats in Indonesia.

Most migrants repatriated this year have also come from countries in the region—174 from Vietnam, 150 from Malaysia, 133 from Thailand and 57 from Indonesia, as well as one from Laos and three from Singapore, according to ministry figures. Forty-seven were returned from China, nine from Japan, two from Russia, and one each from Saudi Arabia and Australia.

Immigration police take down information about suspected illegal immigrants from Vietnam at a Phnom Penh scrapyard in 2014. (Matt Blomberg/The Cambodia Daily)
Immigration police take down information about suspected illegal immigrants from Vietnam at a Phnom Penh scrapyard in 2014. (Matt Blomberg/The Cambodia Daily)

The statement, released on Wednesday, lists a number of problems faced by Cambodian laborers and brides overseas, with the ministry saying that it “concentrates” on issues including “abuse from employers,” “legal support” and “helping to return [migrants] home.”

However, how much of the work is being done by the government is unclear.

“I do know that a lot of the work is done by NGOs,” said Joseph Arnhold, spokesman for the NGO Chab Dai, which works with migrant laborers and other groups vulnerable to trafficking.

Last year’s repatriation of 427 Cambodian fishermen was conducted almost entirely by the International Organization for Migration, Mr. Arnhold said, with the expense covered by foreign donors.

“There is a budget [from the ministry]—but it might just be for flight reimbursement,” he said. “And a lot of time families pay even this—spouses or parents will pay to have their relative flown home.”

Neighboring countries seem to be stepping up efforts to deport Cambodian laborers. A number of Cambodian workers in Thailand have been nabbed in raids recently as anti-immigrant sentiment surges, and there have also been reports of mass deportations from Vietnam.

Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Chum Sounry could not be reached.

Apart from helping migrants home, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs assisted nearly 15,000 Cambodians in applying for work visas in Thailand this year, and helped to send some 5,965 more to South Korea for work, said ministry official Dy Yoeun.

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