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Interior ministry looks into migrant workers’ welfare

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Cambodian migrant workers are detained by Thai soldiers for illegally crossing the border in Sa Kaeo province in May. Photo supplied

Interior ministry looks into migrant workers’ welfare

The Ministry of Interior and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) on Thursday held their second national-level workshop to discuss improving the migration and recruitment process of Cambodian workers.

Secretary of state and permanent vice-chair of the National Committee for Counter Trafficking of Cambodia (NCCT) Chou Bun Eng said inter-ministerial officials planned to ensure migrant workers receive proper identification documents and have access to proper border management services.

The workshop also aimed to cooperate with other countries to implement a safe and legal migration process.

Minister of Interior Sar Kheng said at the workshop that migrant workers have faced obstacles in their daily lives caused by Covid-19.

He said as the number of new infections increases in many countries, the situation has brought negative economic implications which harm migrant workers.

Many factories have suspended operations, he said, and service sector jobs have dried up. Border closures and travel restrictions have also affected migrant workers.

Sar Kheng said they are forced to decide whether they want to stay abroad without work or return home to reunite with their families.

From March 21 to July 23, 103,000 Cambodian migrant workers (45 per cent of whom were women) returned to Cambodia, he said.

The government has rescued workers who illegally crossed borders, he said. Some of these workers were sent back to Cambodia when other countries implemented lockdowns and travel restrictions to prevent Covid-19 transmissions.

The interior minister said the government will prepare a plan of action for next year to ensure migrant workers are protected and have mechanisms in place to ensure the process of working abroad is orderly and legal.

He requested that workshop participants focus on protecting legal and illegal migrants, whether they are leaving or returning to Cambodia.

One of the workshop’s goals is to create data systems to help better manage migrant workers. This will make it easier to respond to unexpected situations, Sar Kheng said.

Protecting children from human trafficking is a paramount concern, he added. Determining the legal identities of migrant workers and especially their children born in Cambodia must also be discussed, he added.

The executive director of the Centre for Alliance of Labour and Human Rights (Central) Moeun Tola said the focus should be on improving the recruitment process of migrant workers. Recruitment agencies should operate transparently, responsibly and by using only legal documentation, Tola said.

“Once the price [of recruitment] is too high, our citizens borrow money from others informally at high interest rates such as [from] their relatives, neighbours, banks and microfinance establishments.

“If they borrow money from others, when they arrive in foreign countries, recruitment agencies require companies to cut their wages to pay for job-seeking services [if they haven’t already paid].

“Doing so makes them indebted, and [sometimes] their passports and visas are withheld. It violates [their] freedom of movement and expression of speech. If they are not happy in the workplace, they don’t dare protest,” he said.

Tola said it was essential to train migrant workers for their jobs and educate them on their rights and obligations before they leave Cambodia. When negotiating with foreign countries, the State should negotiate on workers’ behalf and ensure their protection instead of only focusing on the data.

More importantly, he said, the State should visit them to know their pains and joys while working abroad. He said Cambodian embassy officials should meet with migrant workers frequently.

When migrant workers return, the State should determine their skills acquired from working abroad and find a way to help utilise them in Cambodia.

“In negotiations with countries [hiring Cambodian workers], I think the State should focus on two matters – protection mechanisms and skills. It is expected that when our migrant workers return, they become skilled workers for the development of our country,” he said.

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