Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday defended himself from critics who claim the massive flow of workers leaving the country is indicative of a lack of development at home, and sought to clarify any misunderstanding on Cambodia’s recent request to amend a repatriation agreement with the US.
During a speech at a graduation ceremony for the National Institute of Education yesterday, Hun Sen said the deportation agreement – under which the US has sent hundreds of Cambodians with criminal convictions back to the Kingdom – has not yet been cancelled but appealed to the US to amend it for humanitarian reasons.
Hun Sen added that the Cambodian government has an obligation to support the rights of its citizens living in the US. He criticised the deportation practice for breaking up families and used the opportunity to take a sly dig at Washington, which has been the subject of repeated attacks by Cambodian officials of late.
“This is a pitiful separation . . . The Cambodian government must think about its people . . . We hope the US, which claims to be the father of democracy, will respect human rights and accept a request for an amendment in order to allow Cambodian convicts to continue to live in the US with their families,” he said.
Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn made a similar request to visiting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Patrick Murphy earlier this week. Representatives from the US Embassy have only said the issue will be discussed in the coming months.
Turning his attention to the millions of Cambodians who leave the country for better paying jobs, Hun Sen yesterday maintained that the exodus was actually a positive.
“There are some brothers and sisters that discredit the government by saying that I have been ruling the country for years and always talk about development, but people are still going abroad to be servants,” Hun Sen said, adding that workers in Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and the Philippines also flock to more developed countries.
“They should consider the benefits of open borders and regional integration . . . Please do not forget that even US citizens are seeking employment abroad,” he said, adding that remittances sent home by workers can contribute to national economic growth.
But Moeun Tola, executive director of labour rights group Central, said many Cambodian migrant workers are exploited and don’t make enough money to send much home.
“Most migrant workers are unskilled, and others are illiterate and can’t even write their names. When we send those workers abroad, they are highly susceptible to exploitation. This does nothing to improve family income or economic growth, but they come home significantly poorer,” Tola said.