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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cambodia, Malaysia reach agreement on anti-trafficking pact

Cambodia, Malaysia reach agreement on anti-trafficking pact

A forthcoming Memorandum of Understanding is expected to improve cooperation between both countries to combat human trafficking

CAMBODIA and Malaysia have pledged to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that will allow them to better combat human trafficking, according to Bith Kimhong, director of the Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Department at the Ministry of Interior.

"We are in the process of drafting an MoU now, and we hope that it will improve cooperation between the two countries," Bith Kimhong told the Post on Wednesday.

San Arun, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Women's Affairs, told the Post the Cambodian government has already signed MoUs about human trafficking with six countries in the Mekong basin.

But last week's repatriation of 17 Cambodian trafficking victims who escaped Thai fishing vessels in Malaysia re-emphasized the global nature of the human-trafficking trade and demonstrated the importance of international cooperation, specifically between Cambodia and Malaysia, to prevent and respond to human trafficking.

Male trafficking

The recent trafficking legislation in Cambodia and Malaysia covers both male and female trafficking. Though it has not received the same media attention and the exact numbers of trafficked men are unclear, Malaysia has become an important stop in the male trafficking network, according to Manfred Hornung at the rights group Licadho.

As in the case of the 17 returnees, Cambodian men who have been trafficked onto fishing boats often jump ship in Malaysia. Many of these men end up working illegally on Malaysian plantations, afraid to contact authorities, Hornung said.

One of the issues that make both legal and illegal migrants prime targets of exploitation is that many of them are not aware of their rights abroad or how they can assert them.

If someone, regardless of gender, gets classified as a trafficking victim in Malaysia or Thailand, then that country's authorities are not supposed to treat the person as a criminal, but rather help facilitate their return home. But most human trafficking victims simply do not know  that they can be classified as victims, Hornung said.

Rights education

The Ministry of Women's Affairs held a conference last week on how migrants can assert their rights abroad.

"We are working to encourage people to understand the legal process before they migrate for work to other countries, so they will not take unnecessary risks," San Arun said.

Oum Mean, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training, said that while illegal workers "will face a lot of problems with the authorities", legal migrants "will have the Cambodian embassy and authorities to help them".

A recent report said that currently 13,324 Cambodians work legally in Malaysia, but Oum Mean said that though the exact number of illegal workers is unknown, they eclipse the number of legal workers.

Additional reporting by Christopher Shay

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