Earlier this year, Prime Minister Hun Sen urged illegal Cambodian migrants to return home from Thailand, but stubborn workers seeking better pay asked: “Why should I?”
The country’s leader made his stance during the establishment of Sihanoukville Autonomous Port on May 1, 2012.
The request came at a time when the rights and safety of overseas workers are questioned, and a labour shortage in Cambodia may stump the national economy.
Fears for Cambodian migrant workers resurfaced on June 20, 2012 when Cambodian workers reported abuse by police while working in Thailand.
The men were shaved, stripped naked, extorted of their money and held by Thai police - despite being legal migrants holding legal jobs.
Their only fault was that the visas the workers were given indicated the wrong working destination, as reported by The Phnom Penh Post.
Thailand isn’t the only host country known to take advantage of unaware Cambodian emigrants. Cambodians seeking better pay in Malaysia are also at high risk, especially the large number of foreign domestic workers.
Whether they entered legally or illegally, workers have reported physical and mental abuse by employers.
Despite the risks, local Cambodians are still under the rose-coloured allure of a better life from a thicker paycheck.
“I can earn US$300 per month in Thailand, compared to US$70 in Cambodia,” said Miss Eur Ann, 25, who plans to work in Thailand within the next three months.
Mr Sok Na, who has also not been abroad, possesses a positive, albeit naïve outlook on a career overseas, said, “Working in other countries will not just bring more money, but also bring chances for new experiences.”
According to Khleang Rim, National Project Coordinator of the International Labour Organization, “Challenges faced in host countries depend on many factors such as occupation, location and gender of the migrant, but the biggest issue is often language barriers.”
Rim added: “Migrants have experienced difficulties getting used to cultural differences in host countries. If migrant workers do not know their rights and how to safeguard them, they are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.”
Not all Cambodians are gung-ho about working overseas, especially parents who have children abroad.
Mr Yen Sophal has a son who works abroad, and expressed his concerns over potential bad influences, trouble with police, and the fact that there is no one to take care of him.
Sophal sees little benefit in finding work elsewhere.
“By working as a garment or construction worker in other countries, one may not earn that much more than those working in Cambodia, moreover he or she may earn less if they don’t work overtime,” he added.
A Cambodian migrant worker, who did not wish to reveal his real name, Mr Makara has been in Korea since 2003.
“Unlike Cambodia, the weather in Korea is very cool,” he said. “When I arrived, I got uncontrollable nose bleeds.”
Makara also noted that the language barrier and local taste palette proved to be a problem. His problems, overall, are superficial compared to many.
There are indeed monetary benefits to working abroad, but eager workers must be prepared to face serious challenges – and more than just nosebleeds.
If you’re serious about working abroad, weigh out the benefits and the challenges, and be absolutely sure of the work that you’re getting into. The key is to be informed.