Minister of Interior Sar Kheng met his Lao and Myanmar counterparts on Wednesday to discuss ways to strengthen the protection of migrant workers from each country.
Speaking during a two-day technical-level meeting in Siem Reap province, Sar Kheng said after this second round of discussions to exchange ideas and experiences, that the three countries will raise the issue with Thailand, which receives the most migrant workers in the region.
“The three countries [Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar] are neighbours who have similar cultures and share borders with Thailand.
“A large number of our citizens have gone to work there, legally and illegally. Some of them have faced problems throughout their journey, from the day they leave for work until they return,” he said.
Sar Kheng said citizens from each country have the right to find a job overseas, and each government has an obligation to protect them through cooperation with migrant worker-receiving countries.
However, he said that as migrant worker-sending countries, the three governments could not exert pressure on Thailand and would instead work together to reach a consensus on an effective mechanism to protect workers.
“Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar are joining hands to pool ideas before consulting Thailand. We want to help it resolve numerous issues that are the subject of criticism by the international community, such as those involving workers in the fishing industry.
“Please don’t think that our countries are joining hands to take advantage of Thailand or cause any trouble for it.
“Although the three countries have found common ground over the issue during this meeting, we still cannot put it up for discussion directly with Thailand.
“After reaching a consensus at this meeting, we will hold a technical-level discussion with Thailand first, and after an agreement has been reached, [leaders of] the four sides can officially meet,” he said.
Phengsavanh Thipphavongxay, head of the Secretariat of the National Committee on Anti-Trafficking in Persons under Laos’ Ministry of Public Security, said his government had also been facing the issue of cross-border migration.
He particularly noted the exploitation of Lao workers in Thailand.
“This trilateral discussion is important for the governments of the three countries that have sent a lot of migrant workers. This provides us with an opportunity to join hands to resolve the challenges we face and to seek a proper solution,” he said.
The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration adopted in Morocco in December last year stipulates that member countries have to promote the implementation of migrant worker protection against all forms of trafficking and exploitation at all steps of migration.
In November 2017, Asean member states also signed a unanimous agreement and approved the Law on Protection and Promotion of Rights of Migrant Workers to boost the effectiveness of migration job governance.
Kristin Parco, the head of mission at the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Cambodia, said the trilateral meeting was vital for the three migrant-worker-sending countries to address numerous issues.
These include human and sex trafficking and challenges faced by workers in the fishing industry, among others.
She said IOM will continue its efforts to facilitate dialogue among the relevant parties.
“We should carry out more operations in order to have an important role in migration tasks through governing law and labour standards.
“This is because migration mostly exists in the region which requires cooperation in a global and regional manner in order to reach implementation in 2030.”