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Migrants' remittances even during crisis: IOM

091218_07
A woman withdraws money Thursday from an ACLEDA Bank ATM in Phnom Penh. Migrant workers often send money back through ACLEDA branches on the Thai border, according to an IOM study.

New study by the International Organisation for Migration says Cambodians are still finding ways to send money back home

Migrant workers are a clear case of brain drain [on Cambodia].

MIGRANT remittances to Cambodia had remained robust during the economic crisis, according to a new International Organisation for Migration (IOM) study shown Thursday in Phnom Penh.

IOM project coordinator Bruno Maltoni admitted it was still difficult to assess the total value of remittances into the Kingdom due to the informal nature of much of the work Cambodian’s do abroad.

Nevertheless, a sample study of about 210 migrants in Thailand showed that remittances remained strong, he said, also citing a November World Bank report highlighting the resilience of migrant remittances to developing countries during the crisis.

“The predicted decline in remittances is far smaller than that for [other] private flows to developing countries,” said the report.

Maltoni estimated there were some 248,000 Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand, a number which could rise to 316,000 by 2018, generating a significant flow of US dollars to family back in the Kingdom, he said.

To study remittances, the IOM conducted sampling in Cambodia’s Kampong Cham and Prey Veng, and Thailand’s Trat and Rayong provinces, extrapolating a set of conclusions from the data, said Maltoni.

The study found 71.8 percent of migrant workers said they sent less than US$100 home, but with some frequency – 68.8 percent of the total claimed they sent the money at least three times a year.

Receiving the money provides a financial boon to family members left at home, especially as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said Cambodia’s GDP per capita was only $823 in 2008.

The benefits of remittances from a large migrant workforce did not come without concerns, however, according to Maltoni.
“Migrant workers are a clear case of brain drain,” he said.

On top of migrants being more likely to be able to read than the family members they left behind, he added, “people with more initiative are more prone to migrate”.

Once people crossed the border to Thailand, contact back home began to decline. “Households are most important at the beginning of migration,” he said.

Noting that fewer migrants owned phones than televisions, he added “they basically fall off the map”.

The money trail
Moving the money home often proved a challenge, the study showed. Some was remitted through migrants’ friends or specialised agents, or through ACLEDA Bank branches set up close to the Thai border.

Maltoni made the presentation at the launch of the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) 2009 Human Development Report in Phnom Penh on Thursday.

The UNDP’s Cambodia resident coordinator Douglas Broderick said the report argued government should ensure migration-friendly policies were established and enforced.

“The overriding message of this report is that migration – both across and within borders – has the potential to greatly improve human welfare, if we get it right,” he said.

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