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Cambodia standing up for migrant fishermen too late: experts

Migrant workers sort out fish last year at a port in Mahachai, on the outskirts of Bangkok. Nicolas Afouri/AFP
Migrant workers sort out fish last year at a port in Mahachai, on the outskirts of Bangkok. Nicolas Afouri/AFP

Cambodia standing up for migrant fishermen too late: experts

The government’s Cambodian Human Rights Committee on Tuesday sent a request to its counterpart in Thailand to help push the Thai government to implement safety measures to protect Cambodian fishermen working in Thailand in often slave-like conditions, a request advocates said yesterday should have been made years ago.

In its request, the human rights committee says it had “recently received credible information on human rights abuses toward Cambodians” who are fishing in Thailand.

It notes that the abuses included forced labour and coerced drug-use – intended to make the fishermen work longer hours – and calls for Thailand to create a mechanism to monitor migrant workers’ rights.

A chorus of human rights and labour advocates, however, were quick to question how the government had only “recently” become aware of the widely publicised abuses.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said the systematic abuses suffered by Cambodian men and boys on Thai fishing boats have been going on for “literally decades”.

“This is yet another example of the Cambodian government’s shameful dereliction of duty to protect Cambodian migrants overseas,” he said in an email.

Andy Hall, an international affairs adviser at the Thailand-based Migrant Rights Network, likewise accused the Kingdom of being “neglectful for years”.

Moeun Tola, of the labour rights group Central, said “the call should have been made a couple of years ago”.

“But at least they are doing it now,” he allowed.

Keo Remy, president of the Cambodian Human Rights Committee, said part of the delay in submitting such a request was due to looking up the details to contact its counterpart.

“We spent time researching the address and leaders of the Thai national human rights commission because there were changes,” he said. “They changed their president.”

Remy said the committee hopes that the Thai commission will cooperate and encourage the Thai “government to do this work”.

However, Robertson said that a monitoring mechanism and a push to get undocumented migrants registered would not be enough, adding that the Cambodian government should demand the Thais allow migrant workers to unionise, which is currently prohibited.

Officials from the Thai human rights body didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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