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US critical of efforts on trafficking

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Five migrant workers who spent almost a year in an Indonesian jail after being tricked into working as fishermen on Thai boats for two years were repatriated to Cambodia in July last year.

The United States government has indicated that the Cambodian government made little effort to combat human trafficking in the Kingdom last year, according to a report released yesterday.

In the Trafficking in Persons Report 2011, released by the US Department of State, Cambodia retained its ‘Tier 2’ ranking, which defines countries whose governments do not fully comply with minimum standards in the US Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, but are making “significant” efforts in that direction.

Despite this, the report found that the government “did not demonstrate progress in law enforcement efforts against trafficking crimes”.

“There were no convictions of labour trafficking offenders during the year, and the government has yet to convict any labour recruiters whose companies were involved in labour trafficking or fraudulent recruitment,” the report said.

“In some cases, Cambodian police were reportedly unwilling to pursue investigations of several suspected trafficking establishments ... [that] were thought to be owned by or affiliated with high-ranking officials.”

Moeun Tola, head of the labour programme at the Community Legal Education Centre, said yesterday that it was difficult to prosecute recruitment agencies.

“When we push the authorities to prosecute [recruitment firms] they say the company … is licensed by the Ministry of Labour, so they are a legal company,” he said. “When the [agency] has a problem in one centre, they move all the girls to another centre.”

He added that some agencies may also be “linked” with high-ranking officials.

Labour Ministry officials could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The report also referenced claims from NGOs that the government had limited their involvement in consultations on a draft sub-decree to regulate labour recruiters, while allowing substantial input from the Association of Cambodian Recruitment Agencies.

There was “no consultation” with NGOs and civil society organisations on the draft sub-decree, Moeun Tola said.

However, An Bunhak, director of the Association of Cambodian Recruitment Agencies, denied yesterday that NGOs had been excluded from discussions.

“They are welcome, but they must have the commitment to help the government …[and] the migrant workers,” he said.

Labour recruitment firms have come under increasing scrutiny in the Kingdom following a spate of alleged abuses of Cambodian domestic workers, particularly in Malaysia, by foreign employers and the recruitment agencies that train them.

“Cambodia should have been downgraded. They have done nothing to end the abuses in the labour recruitment centres,” Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division at Human Rights Watch, said yesterday.

Robertson also expressed concern that Cambodia had retained its ranking in the report, despite a failure to combat human trafficking and regulate the labour recruitment system.

“There’s no way that [Cambodia] should be Tier 2,” he said. “There’s been no sign of any political will by the government to crack down on recruitment related to trafficking.”

Meng Kimchhoeun, deputy director of the Anti-human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Department at the Ministry of Interior, said yesterday that many labour traffickers had been convicted.

“There are many offenders involved with the labour trafficking who were convicted through the law and we don’t know for the other cases [involving different types of trafficking],” he said. “We have never been careless.”

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