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Korea eyes investigation of illegal Cambodian migrants

Workers put harvested ginseng into sacks on a South Korean farm in 2013. Cambodia’s ambassador to South Korea is launching an investigation into illegal Cambodian migrant workers in Korea. Bloomberg
Workers put harvested ginseng into sacks on a South Korean farm in 2013. Cambodia’s ambassador to South Korea is launching an investigation into illegal Cambodian migrant workers in Korea. Bloomberg

Korea eyes investigation of illegal Cambodian migrants

Cambodia's ambassador to South Korea, Suth Dina, said he is launching a joint investigation with Korean authorities to break up a network of Cambodian migrants working illegally in Korea.

In an warning posted on his Facebook page yesterday, Dina said he met with a special intelligence unit in Seoul on Wednesday who are seeking to arrest the ringleaders of a network called “KNN Cambodia”, who he said are working illegally in Korea.

“It is an important issue,” Dina’s post reads. “We have evidence that KNN Cambodia is doing this kind of business.”

Contacted yesterday, Dina declined to elaborate further, but the Facebook post said he “reserves the right” not to name names, as the investigation is ongoing.

Moeun Tola, of the rights group Central, said he had not heard of this specific case, but noted that Cambodian migrant workers in Korea go through a stringent government process and are only allowed to work with one pre-arranged employer.

If they run into problems with that employer and leave, Tola explained, they are then considered illegal migrants. Cases of this happening were most common for Cambodians working on Korean farms, he said.

“Some of them meet with difficulties with their employer, such as working hard, working long hours and with the cooler weather, especially the workers who work in agriculture,” he said.

Workers should be given greater flexibility to transfer to different employers, he said, adding that those who had left their jobs and were then considered illegal were likely coming together to help each other.

Kim Yi-chan, a representative from People of the Earth’s Station, an NGO supporting migrant workers in Korea, yesterday echoed Tola’s sentiments.

“I can describe some cases of wage delay, bad working conditions and oppressive relationships between bosses and workers that the Cambodian workers [face],” he said, adding that these cases were mostly in the agricultural sector.

A Cambodian worker who recently fell into illegal status after leaving his job on a Korean farm due to the long work hours spoke to the Post from Korea yesterday.

The worker said he is now in limbo, unable to find work elsewhere.

“I don’t want to be an illegal worker here. I want to come back home,” the worker said.

The Ministry of Labour could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Since 2007, more than 40,000 Cambodian migrant workers have left for Korea. Last year, more than 7,000 migrated to the country, the majority to work in agriculture.

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