Since the mass exodus of more than 225,000 mostly undocumented Cambodian migrants from Thailand in June, no long-term solution to the workers’ precarious and often-exploited status has emerged, migration experts said yesterday.
Despite numerous policy revisions and announcements by governments on either side of the border, strategies are still failing to overhaul a system riddled with abuses, several observers said at the launch of a new report: The Precarious Status of Migrants in Thailand: Reflections on the Exodus of Cambodian Migrants.
“The exodus served as a stark reminder that Thailand needs migrant labour . . . despite this recognition and the longstanding dependence . . . policies continue to be shortsighted,” said Reiko Harima of Mekong Migration Network, which conducted the survey upon which the report is based.
In the aftermath of what the report describes as the largest movement of people in Southeast Asia since the 1970s, 46.2 per cent of the workers who had come back to Cambodia returned to Thailand due to a lack of decent-paying jobs. Around the time of the exodus, there were just 16,146 available jobs in Cambodia, according to the National Employment agency.
With employers hurting from the lack of labour, Thailand established “One-Stop Service Centres” to facilitate workers’ return. From July to November, the junta registered 681,571 Cambodians and provided them with temporary work permits – conditional on their registration by a current employer – as part of a nationality verification process to be completed by March 2015.
But the current program and pending deadline has thrown into question what comes next.
“Their [migration status] is not complete yet, they have no guarantee, no stability,” said Chou Bun Eng, secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior. “It seems like Cambodia is always running behind Thailand to catch up. But what we really need is common dialogue and discussion to solve this together.”
To facilitate the nationality verification process, the Cambodian government deployed “mobile units” to Thailand to supply passports to workers, who can then apply for legal status for another year.
About 7,250 passports have so far been issued to Cambodian workers, with over 670,000 to go, according to the Labour Ministry.
“With the number of workers remaining there, I do not expect we will be able to finish by the deadline,” said Choub Narath, deputy director general at the Department of Employment.