Analysis of results from the recently published General Population Census 2019 indicates that domestic migration within Cambodia is gradually declining as families settle in the post-conflict era, with trends towards urbanisation and consolidation of rural agriculture.
The largest portion of internal migration now is notably from rural areas to towns, in contrast to movements observed in 1993 and 2008.
Census statistics revealed that 34 per cent of domestic relocation was from rural to urban areas, followed by moves from one town to another which accounted for 30 per cent. Migration from one rural area to another dropped from nearly 51 per cent in 2008 to 29 per cent in 2019, according to the census report released in January.
Among the 15.55 million documented residents in the Kingdom in 2019, more than 20 per cent were internal migrants, meaning they had relocated within the country, while the remainder registered as living permanently in one location. The number of such migrants dropped from 3.55 million in 2008 to 3.31 million in the recent census.
According to the census report, current migration movements are predominantly inter-provincial, while the 2008 census found that migration was mostly within provinces. This trend was true for both men and women.
It concluded that movements from one province to another have come as the result of a rapid and significant process of urbanisation. The most common reasons for migration found in all three census reports was accompanying family, followed by changing workplaces, searching for employment and marriage.
More than half of internal migrants were from 20 to 39 years old, and nearly 90 per cent were between 15 and 64.
“Migrants worked at approximately the same activities as the general population. This is important because it seems to indicate that there are no special activities which attract migrants in Cambodia. Instead, it appears that the entire economy has labour force demands, particularly in urban areas,” the report said.
Sok Kosal, deputy director of National Institute of Statistics, told The Post that the decline of internal migration was due to the end of repatriations and displacement following the civil war. The majority of migrants now have been born after 1979.
“In terms of policy discussion, migration to urban areas impacts daily life in ways such as worsening traffic congestion and increasing real estate prices in accordance with demand,” he said, adding that the census report did not thoroughly analyse the impacts of migration.
Social analyst Meas Nee noted that less than 70 per cent of farmers now have as much as 1ha of land. Such small plots of farmland have required family members to migrate, and these movements have become normal for families in order to survive.
He said people used to move from one rural area to another because farmers could rely on agricultural work, and they moved to areas to cultivate land where labour was in demand. But now, ownership of arable lands had been consolidated by wealthy companies and individuals, reducing options and mobility for prospective migrants.
“In Phnom Penh and some provincial towns, the streets are congested every morning. It indicates that people have moved from rural areas into the towns because that is where the development is – rather than in rural areas.
“The government does not seem to sufficiently prioritise agriculture, and this causes imbalances between developments in towns as opposed to rural areas. This is a good lesson for the government to consider.
“The high rise buildings, finished and unfinished, are signals which attract tens of thousands of labourers from rural areas,” Nee said.