Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cambodian migrants faring ‘worst in region’

Cambodian migrants faring ‘worst in region’

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Cambodian migrant workers wait at Poipet’s immigration office in July, after trucks full of workers were deported by Thai authorities back to the Kingdom. Maryann Bylander

Cambodian migrants faring ‘worst in region’

Out of four Southeast Asian countries, migrant workers from Cambodia have the worst experiences, with eight in 10 experiencing labour rights abuses while abroad and more than two-thirds reporting mental or physical health problems upon return, according to a study released by ILO and IOM today.

The study compared migrants from Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam, finding workers from Cambodia are more likely to experience abuses and have health problems. An estimated 1.5 million Cambodians are currently working abroad, and Cambodian officials have publicly stated their intention to send even more.

Report author Ben Harkins said it is “difficult to say” whether migration helps or hurts the average Cambodian worker. Despite some long-term benefits – including slight increases in monthly income after returning – “there’s also a lot of problems”, he said.

Harkins said Cambodian migrants are particularly vulnerable to labour rights abuses and stayed the shortest length of time in their destination countries. In addition, Cambodian workers struggle to find employment upon return.

“There’s still a gap,” Harkins said. “Even if they do obtain these kinds of improvements in skills, they can’t always apply them when they come back to Cambodia.”

Two-thirds also reported social, psychological or health issues upon return – with the largest complaints being boredom, anxiety and depression. While those may seem like quibbles, the results show that migrants need help readjusting to their communities and finding work, Harkins said.

Srorn Langda, project manager for human trafficking NGO Chab Dai, said he was unsurprised by the results. The vast majority of Cambodian workers migrate through unofficial channels, often without a contract, which puts them at risk, he said.

But even those with contracts sometimes end up with employers who break their promises, Langda added. “They don’t give their salary to them, they use them, they exploit their labour,” Langda said.

Still, he hesitated to say 
that migration is overall a negative experience for Cambodian workers.

“When they are staying in the countryside, they have nothing to do, they are jobless,” he said. “Migrants can improve their living situation.”

Prime Minister Hun Sen said in a speech to garment workers on Wednesday that he hopes 
to increase the number of migrants working overseas, despite years of reports of widespread abuses. Labour Ministry spokesman Heng Sour could not be reached yesterday.

Researchers spent one and 
a half years producing the report, which involved surveying more than 1,800 returned migrant workers, including nearly 500 from Cambodia.

Harkins pointed out that not all the results were negative. Almost half of Cambodian migrant workers brought back new skills from their time abroad and more than nine out of 10 female workers reported that their experience abroad was empowering, he said.

Upon return, migrant workers from Cambodia were also able to slightly increase their monthly income by $11, according to the report.

To improve experiences for migrant workers, ILO and IOM recommend that destination countries beef up their labour rights protections and that origin countries improve job opportunities for returned migrants.

Harkins also called upon Cambodian authorities to be stricter in pursuing labour rights violations, particularly those committed by recruitment agencies.

“The benefits of migration have not been maximised for Cambodian migrants, but we also acknowledge that there is the possibility for migrants to have positive outcomes,” he said.

MOST VIEWED

  • NagaWorld casinos set to reopen, schools to follow

    NAGACORP Ltd has requested that it be allowed to reopen its NagaWorld integrated resorts in Phnom Penh after the government recently approved casinos to operate again, provided they follow Covid-19 prevention measures set by the Ministry of Health. Mey Vann, the director-general of the Ministry

  • ASEM supports Kingdom’s proposal to postpone meeting amid Covid

    The 13th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM13) scheduled to be held in Cambodia in November has been postponed until mid-2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation press statement released on Saturday said. The decision was made during a two-day meeting

  • Coffee maker roasted for producing fake product

    The Ministry of Interior’s Counter Counterfeit Committee will send a suspect to court on Monday after she allegedly roasted coffee mixed with soybeans and other ingredients, creating a product which could pose a high risk to consumers’ health. On the afternoon of July 2, the

  • Cash handout programme 80% complete

    Minister of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation Vong Soth confirmed on Thursday that the implementation of the Cash Transfer Programme For Poor and Vulnerable Households During Covid-19 had been implemented for more than 80% of the over 560,000 families. The programme was introduced one week ago.

  • Cambodia armed with money laundering laws

    Money laundering will now carry a penalty of up to five years in prison while those convicted of financing terrorists will be jailed for up to 20 years, according to new laws promulgated by King Norodom Sihamoni and seen by The Post on Thursday. Comprising nine

  • Where is Cambodia’s exit strategy that can save the economy?

    With the prospect of being slammed by a double whammy, the government is working on an economic recovery plan to deliver it from Covid-19 and the EU’s partial withdrawal of the Everything But Arms scheme in the next two to three years Cambodia is

  • Schools to be reopened in ‘three stages’

    With guidance from Prime Minister Hun Sen, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, is in the process of reopening schools in three stages. But no timeline has been set, ministry spokesperson Ros Soveacha said on Thursday. Soveacha said the first stage will be to

  • Thai border crossings eased

    The Cambodian Embassy in Thailand said in an announcement on Wednesday that Thailand’s government has allowed certain passengers from several countries to enter its borders. The visitors must go back to their country immediately after their duties in Thailand are fulfilled, the embassy said.

  • Gov’t says tourism recovers slightly despite pandemic

    The Ministry of Tourism and the Phnom Penh municipal administration have recognised 33 tourism businesses in the capital which have consistently implemented safety measures for tourists and adhered to the code of conduct issued by the ministry. Recently, the ministry announced that tourism businesses had to

  • Mull ASEAN border opening, PM urges

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has requested that ASEAN launch a scenario for gradually reopening cross-border travel and trade between countries in the region. He said ASEAN has had more success combating Covid-19 compared to other regions. The prime minister’s request was made at the