Almost 120,000 Cambodians who illegally crossed into neighbouring countries in search of work were repatriated during 2011, new figures from the Ministry of Interior have revealed, prompting a senior ministry official to call for a re-evaluation of how Cambodian workers are treated abroad.
Mai Vireak/Phnom Penh Post
Workers return to Cambodia from neighbouring countries in December 2011.
Chou Bun Eng, secretary of state at the ministry, told the Post on Friday that Cambodian embassies had facilitated the return of workers from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, China, Taiwan, East Timor and Saudi Arabia.
According to the ministry’s data, 118,791 workers were returned through crossings along the Thai-Cambodian border last year, while 585 were repatriated by plane following assistance from Cambodian embassies abroad. Only a very small number of those returned were victims of human trafficking, according to the ministry.
Chou Bun Eng, who chairs the secretariat of the Anti-Women and Children Trafficking Commission, said that some people had been counted more than once, and urged against assuming that returned workers were “illegal” workers, suggesting the terms “irregular” or “undocumented” instead.
“[Thailand] said these workers are illegal, but we have a memorandum of co-operation with them,” she said. “They want our workers to work in Thailand, but these people have been found [by Thailand] to be illegal.”
The Anti-Women and Children Trafficking Commission must re-examine the legal procedures for short-term workers in foreign countries, she said.
Ya Navuth, director of KARAM organisation, which assists migrants, said that Cambodian workers travelling to foreign countries were often looked down upon by their employers.
“The problem is mostly about discrimination – if [you are] found with HIV, you are not allowed to work in a foreign country,” he said.
Since June last year, KARAM had received 50 complaints detailing serious violations of workers’ rights, mostly of which were reported from Malaysia, he said.
In October, the Cambodian government temporarily banned recruitment agencies from sending workers to Malaysia, following numerous reports of abuse against Cambodian maids working in the country.