A sub-decree aimed at stemming the massive influx of mostly undocumented Cambodian migrant workers returning from Thailand with a drastically reduced passport fee already appears to be generating an overwhelming response.
Yesterday, an estimated 200 workers lined up outside the Battambang provincial passport office to get what they hoped would be their $4 ticket to legal work abroad.
“We had to tell them that we are not ready yet,” Pan Dy, an official at the Battambang office, said. “[The ministry] just had an initial meeting [yesterday] morning and we cannot proceed until we have a registered worker list.”
Dy said vendors and ordinary Cambodians also stormed the office yesterday to get their $4 passports, not realising the reduction is only meant for workers and students.
In a closed-door meeting in the capital, meanwhile, Labour Minister Ith Sam Heng yesterday stressed the urgency of assisting the more than 220,000 migrants who have returned in the past two weeks.
Typically, the government issues 500 passports a day at the official fee of $124, according to Yov Khemara, director of Preah Sihanouk provincial labour department. But in addition to reducing the cost of one of the region’s most expensive passports, the ministry also wants to increase the number of applications it can process daily.
But amid all the excitement, rights workers warned that cheap passports aren’t a fix-all for the surge of undocumented workers.
“Reducing the passport fee is good, sure, but unless they solve the prohibitively high recruitment-agency fees, it’s going to be an absolutely useless measure,” Bankgok-based migration expert Andy Hall said.
He added that the passport fee is just one of several charges that results in workers’ debt bondage.
Chan Soveth, a senior investigator at rights’ group Adhoc, added that given earlier failures of subsidised passport orders, he is sceptical the current measure will succeed.
“The previous passport reduction at just over $20 for workers could not be done,” he said. “[But] if they can do it now, we welcome the help for the poor workers.”