Last year, more than 800 Cambodian workers were repatriated from 13 countries in the region, a jump of almost 200 people compared with 2015, according to a report released yesterday by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The ministry attributed the increase to a heightened effort by Cambodian embassies and consulates abroad to send undocumented workers back home, as well as helping victims of human trafficking escape their precarious conditions.
Ministry spokesman Chum Sounry said the increase was also due to a higher number of crackdowns in host countries on illegal fishing and human trafficking practises in which Cambodians were often caught up. But the sheer volume of Cambodians seeking work abroad in the first place was cause for concern, opposition lawmakers and labour rights activists said yesterday.
Cambodia National Rescue Party spokesman Yim Sovann laid the stubbornly high number of migrant workers at the government’s doorstep, saying a lack of will to fight corruption had kept investment, and therefore much-needed jobs, away. He added that the government needed to combat land grabbing, as people who lost their land would inevitably search for work in other countries.
“Some of them are landless, jobless, hopeless, and then [they] go abroad,” he said, adding that high passport fees often meant workers risked illegal status by going abroad without proper documentation.
Council of Ministers spokesman Pay Siphan was dismissive of both explanations, however.
“[Companies] are very pleased to be in Cambodia,” he said, denying that corruption hindered international investment. He also denied any connection between land grabbing and irregular migration, saying that there were fewer than 100 active land-grabbing cases in Cambodia.
Despite the insistence that corruption was not an issue, the most recent Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index found Cambodia’s public institutions the most corrupt in Southeast Asia.
Moeun Tola, of workers’ rights NGO Central, yesterday welcomed the efforts, but echoed Sovann in calling on the government to address overpriced visas and extortionate fees from recruitment services, issues he said left as many as 40 percent of Cambodians working in Thailand illegally.
While no official government figures have been released, Sovann estimated the number of Cambodians working abroad at 1.2 million, while Tola said it could be as high as 2 million.
The Cambodians repatriated during the course of the year worked in Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines, China, Japan, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Russia and South Korea.