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Forging a national migration policy

Ten fishermen arrive at Phnom Penh International Airport in 2013
Ten fishermen arrive at Phnom Penh International Airport in 2013 after being rescued from a fishing boat near Indonesia’s Maluku islands where they had been forced to work under inhumane conditions. Vireak Mai

Forging a national migration policy

Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the ASEAN region. Despite steady economic growth in the past decade, development has benefited the top layer of the population, leaving the urban and rural poor far behind. With low education levels and a lack of economic opportunity, labour migration is the only employment option left for millions of Cambodian youths. Cambodian workers migrate through formal and informal channels to South Korea, Malaysia, Japan and Thailand. They contributed close to $364 million in remittances in 2010, according to the World Bank.

The Labour Migration for Cambodia 2015-2018, launched by the government of Cambodia, is a national policy with a rights-based and gender-sensitive approach. The policy seeks to protect and to empower migrant workers and recognises the important contribution of migrant workers and their roles as “agents of innovation and development”.

The implementation of the Labour Migration Policy is a challenging task for the ministries concerned and at each level of the policy, in particular for the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training in meeting the employment needs of the 300,000 youths who enter the employment market each year. With a limited budget of less than 1.5 per cent of the national budget and a severe lack of qualified civil servants, the ministry’s 17 goals are far-reaching and unrealistic. Our youths will continue to be exposed to vulnerable employment sectors inside and outside of Cambodia. These dangers range from human trafficking to extrajudicial killings along the Cambodia-Thailand border and unprepared mass deportation.

Labour migration governance for positive outcomes for the millions of documented and undocumented Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand, in South Korea and in Malaysia begins with a real investment in the capacity of each concerned ministry to prepare our workers with predeparture orientation that includes knowledge of their fundamental rights as defined in the UN Migrant Workers Convention, which Cambodia is a signatory to; to protect them with a legitimate recruitment mechanism; to monitor their placement with regular visits; to put in place an employment attache in each Cambodian embassy in the destination countries, and and Cambodian embassies in these destination countries should provide legal services, social protection and cover the cost of transport for cases of repatriation.

Migrant workers should be supported to make informed choices when seeking employment, but the entire process of migration for employment must be secured with transparent mechanisms to provide information, preparation, full protection and empowerment to each migrant worker, in particular to women who are more at risk of exploitation. Their return home should be declared complete when they are socially and successfully reintegrated with skills that allow them to seek employment or decent earnings. The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training should use the required deposit of $100,000 as employment agency registration fee to compensate migrant workers who are in need of assistance in cases of abuse.

Migration for employment can benefit the migrant worker, the family and the nation if and when the government policy on migration is implemented through a rights-based framework and is fully part of national development that uses the potential of our labour force and is part of the national development plan, promotes sustainable local employment and provides work opportunities and options for communities. Rule of law and the protection and promotion of the human rights of migrant workers – including their political and religious rights – must be fully enforced by the sending and receiving countries. The shortfalls in the implementation of the government migration policy must be addressed with a significant increase in the allocated budget to the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training.

Mu Sochua is a member of parliament in charge of Women,Children and Migrant Workers at the Office of the Minority Leader in the National Assembly. She is also a member of the advisory committee of the Asian Inter-Parliamentary Caucus on Labour Migration. More information on the organisation can be found at asianparliamentarians.mfasia.org.

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