Interior Minister Sar Kheng yesterday announced he has formed an assessment group – with representation from the ministry’s identification and immigration departments as well as the Ministry of Labour – to study the issues affecting Cambodian migrant workers and provide recommendations to fix them.
The comments, made during a workshop on migration, came a day after a World Bank report that said the number of Cambodian migrant workers would rise, and suggested steps be taken to streamline and formalise the migration process.
An average of 100 illegal Cambodian migrant workers are deported from Thailand every day, according to Kheng.
“How are we going to handle this every day?” he asked. “We need to study [this issue] and find a solution. We don’t put blame on them; we feel pity for them because they don’t understand [the process] and they believe the advertisement of the brokers who take advantage of them. We feel sorry for them, and we should not leave them behind.”
To address this, Kheng suggested the new assessment group talk to migrant workers directly and ask them questions, such as where they are from, what prompted their migration, who took them to Thailand and whether they really had jobs.
“We need to find those sources of information and then we can set a proper strategy,” he said.
The assessment group will provide recommendations to the Interior Ministry and the Labour Ministry on how to simplify the migration documentation process.
Kheng said officials are also considering the possibility of opening a passport office in Banteay Meanchey’s Poipet town and in Battambang town – either at the provincial police station or at the international border crossing – to make it easier for workers to access. Workers, however, would still need to obtain visas and work permits separately.
Federico Barreras, project manager for Open Institute, said he hoped that examination of migration issues would lead to better collaboration between countries, which is also important.
“I hope that countries in the region can better understand the issues of one another,” he said.
Khun Tharo, of labour rights organisation Solidarity Center, said that while it was always good to have a group looking at migration issues, the body needed to explore in greater depth issues like social protections and living conditions.
“At the end of the day, you cannot stop people from being migrants because of economic factors,” he said.
If it wanted to curb migration, the Cambodian government should start by improving the quality of jobs at home, Tharo added, by implementing a minimum wage in industries besides the garment sector, and formalising sectors that are informal, such as construction.