Category Archives: Migration policy in Cambodia

Cambodians start returning to Thailand after exodus

PHNOM PENH: Nearly 10,000 Cambodians have returned to jobs in Thailand after fleeing en masse last month, officials said on Tuesday, as the two countries agreed to make it easier for migrants to obtain work permits.

The exodus of more than 250,000 labourers fearful of a crackdown on undocumented workers under Thailand´s new junta has raised concerns about the impact on the kingdom´s migrant-dependent economy.

At a meeting in Phnom Penh on Tuesday, Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong and visiting Thai foreign ministry permanent secretary Sihasak Phuangketkeow agreed to help “migrants to work legally” in Thailand.

“Cambodia has asked Thailand to issue visas for more than 10,000 migrants, most of whom have now returned to work there,” said Hor Namhong.Cambodian labourers help keep major Thai industries from seafood to construction afloat, but often lack official work permits.

A junta warning last month of arrest and deportation for those working illegally had prompted, by some estimates, the entire undocumented Cambodian population to flee Thailand.

Sihasak said it would now only take one day for Cambodian migrants to obtain a Thai visa following the establishment of worker registration centres along the Cambodian-Thai border.

In a parallel move to ease the process, Phnom Penh said last week that it would now cost only $49 for Cambodians to buy a passport, visa and other working documents to enter Thailand.

Border officials at the Cambodian town of Poipet, the main crossing between the two countries, said on Tuesday that around 1,000 workers had crossed back into Thailand every day since the weekend.

Thailand has almost no unemployment and depends upon neighbouring Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar to fill manual labour vacancies.

Despite insisting there was no crackdown against Cambodian migrants, the junta was unable to stem the flow of workers across the border, with Thai businesses reporting feeling the pinch of a shrinking workforce within days of their flight.

On Tuesday Sihasak also stressed the importance Thailand placed upon its foreign labourers.

“Thailand needs to restore order and has noted that migrants have brought huge benefits to the Thai nation and helped boost its economy,” he told reporters.

Meanwhile Hor Namhong urged Thailand to release 14 Cambodians who were arrested last month for using illegal work documents.

Rumours of the shootings, abuse and arrests of migrants by Thai authorities were among the factors believed to have triggered the mass departures.Some Cambodian officials claimed workers were rounded up from construction sites in Thailand and sent back to Cambodia in trucks.

But Thailand has strongly denied forcibly expelling migrants and has dismissed reports of killings as “groundless”.

The coup in Thailand on May 22 followed years of political divisions between a military-backed royalist establishment and supporters of former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

By: The News International

Passport cost cut after crisis

After the rush of Cambodian migrant workers swelling over the border appeared to finally be subsiding last week, officials said the number started to spike again yesterday, attributing the rise to the announcement of $4 passports.

On Friday, Prime Minister Hun Sen signed a subdecree that will see the normal fee of $124 for passports reduced to just $4 for students and migrant workers.

The same day, the number of workers crossing back into Cambodia via the Poipet International Checkpoint declined to 2,421 – towards the lower end of the scale since the mass exodus of workers fleeing Thailand began two weeks ago, but still vastly higher than the 100-person norm before the crisis.

But on Saturday and Sunday, an increasing number of migrants poured into the small checkpoint again.

“I think they heard about the passport prakas,” Banteay Meanchey governor Korsum Saroeurt said. “Many people are saying that they want to come back, get their passport and visa, and return to their jobs in Thailand.”

More than 220,000 mostly undocumented Cambodian workers have come back from Thailand so far, most fleeing fears of an imminent junta-led crackdown. They left behind jobs mainly in construction and agriculture that paid twice as much as in Cambodia.

“Cheaper passports are good but won’t end the problems. The workers will still be exploited,” said Kem Ley, an independent political analyst. “[The government] reduced the cost of the passport, but they didn’t raise the wages of the civil servants responsible for processing the passport or patrolling the border.”

Last week, passport troubles led to 13 migrant workers who were trying to come back to Cambodia going to prison in Thailand instead.

“They were cheated by their ringleader,” said Moeung Mony, an official at the Cambodian-Thai border relations office in Poipet. He added that the workers were not aware that their visas were fake.

The workers are in detention in Thailand awaiting legal assistance from Cambodia, according to Neth Sary, Cambodian consul general in Thailand’s Sa Kaeo province.

On Friday, NGOs ADHOC and Human Rights Watch both urged the junta to improve treatment of migrant workers.

By: Cheang Sokha and Laignee Barron, Phnom Penh Post

Labor Ministry to Inspect Migrant Worker Recruitment Agencies, Cambodia Daily

The government today will begin strict inspections of agencies that recruit workers to send overseas, Labor Minister Ith Sam Heng said Tuesday.

The labor minister has previously threatened to suspend or revoke the licenses of agencies that do not comply with labor laws.

Speaking at a workshop designed to school the nation’s 43 registered labor recruitment agencies on laws that govern their firms, Mr. Sam Heng warned the agencies to follow closely eight new prakas, or ministerial directives, which came into effect late last year.

“I recommend to each agency, you must be well prepared, you must make your house stable, you must be a real agency, a real entity. It is not a joke…the government and ministry will hold you responsible if you cheat the workers,” Mr. Sam Heng said.

He said that after two warnings, “if the problems are not fixed we will move to the cancellation of licenses.”

The legislation, called Sending Workers Abroad Through Private Recruitment Agencies, is designed to hold recruitment agencies accountable for the training and treatment of migrant workers and to introduce a complaint mechanism for workers to use while living overseas.

In the past, migrant workers have been seduced by dishonest brokers with false promises and then left at the mercy of employers once they arrive at their overseas destinations. In 2011, following a raft of reports of serious abuses by employers in Malaysia, Prime Minister Hun Sen banned the sending of domestic workers there.

“Previously, some agencies just rent two apartments and put 60 or 70 workers inside—it’s not a training center but a detention center,” Mr. Sam Heng said. “We will not let it happen again.”

Rim Khleang, national project coordinator for the International Labor Organization (ILO), which helped draft the new directives, said Tuesday that the ILO has no role in inspections.

“The checklist for the inspections is not clear to us, but I understand that they will be in line with exactly what is in the prakas,” Mr. Khleang said. He referred further questions to Max Tunon, the ILO’s senior project coordinator, who could not be reached.

The Labor Ministry also declined to give further insight into exactly what aspects of recruitment agencies will be scrutinized during government inspections.

Ravi Chandran, manager of Unicorn, a Malaysian-owned recruitment agency, said he hopes the current ban on sending Cambodian maids to Malaysia will be lifted. He expressed doubt that the directives will properly ensure workers’ rights.

“We are a legitimate company that takes the straight line and treats workers appropriately but we always end up the loser,” Mr. Chandran said.

“As we know, in Cambodia, everything can be bought. None of the local agencies will fail the inspection—they know how to do business.”

By Matt Blomberg, Cambodia Daily

Published on 26 March 2014


Sharp dip in legal emigration, Phnom Penh Post

The Ministry of Labor on Tuesday announced that the number of workers leaving Cambodia for jobs abroad dropped by more than a third in 2013 compared to the year before, but experts warned yesterday that the ministry’s figures did not represent the broader emigration picture.

While the ministry’s data shows that the total number of Cambodian migrant workers abroad in 2013 was 22,300 – down 36 per cent from 34,804 in 2012 – the figures leave out the vast number of illegal Cambodian immigrants who have sought work abroad, estimated in 2012 to number 160,000 in Thailand alone.

Hou Vuthy, deputy director-general at the Ministry of Labor, said that though illegal emigration still occurs, other factors are also at play.

“As I have asked and examined from border officials, Cambodian workers still illegally cross to work in bordering countries,” he said.

But, he added, it is also likely that the dip in legal emigration figures could be attributed to workers simply finding better jobs at home last year.

The roughly 8,800 workers in South Korea represented a slight rise over 2012, but it was the massive decline in legal workers in Thailand – down to 13,168 in 2013, compared to more than 26,300 in 2012 – that accounts for 2013’s entire drop in legal workers abroad.

Last year’s decline coincided with new Thai regulations that require Cambodian migrants seeking to work there to complete an official registration process or face deportation.

At the time, critics argued that the proposition was expensive – even with Thailand’s attractive 9,000-baht ($274) monthly minimum wage – and corrupt, and would ultimately have the effect of forcing immigration underground, a prediction that appears to have been borne out, according to labour migration expert Andy Hall.

“The legal entry channels . . . are out of control, completely unregulated, expensive, not transparent and slow. Workers are at risk of falling into situations of debt bondage and even being trafficked through [these] formal channels,” he said yesterday, via email.

“I doubt there has been any decrease in actual number of workers from Cambodia to Thailand, but just [a] decrease in using formal channels . . . Of course the informal channels are also as risky, if not more so, than the formal channels because of deceptive brokers, trafficking,” he added.

Moeun Tola, head of the labour program at the Community Legal Education Center, also maintained that legal emigration had simply been supplanted by illegal emigration “because they think that it’s easier to avoid the documents and spend less”.

Pich Vanna, director of the Cambodian-Thai border relations office, said that Cambodians seeking to illegally emigrate often take up residence along the border until the time is right to cross.

“That’s why it’s difficult to arrest them or stop them, [and] why most Cambodian workers work there illegally,” he said.

By Sen David, Phnom Penh Post

Published on 16 January 2014.

Maid scheme off to ‘slow start’, Phnom Penh Post

A pilot scheme sending 400 Cambodian maids to Singapore has made a spluttering start, according to local media reports, with agencies in Singapore reportedly growing frustrated at the slow pace of maid arrivals and “sceptical” about the reliability of Cambodia as a source.

Only about 100 Cambodian maids have arrived in Singapore since September, Singapore’s Straits Times reported yesterday, with agents having to turn would-be employers away as they could not guarantee the workers would arrive by a certain time.

The two-year pilot program aims to test whether Cambodian domestic workers are suitable for Singapore’s large foreign domestic worker market. If successful, it could see the Kingdom approved as an official source country.

Lao Lyhock, managing director at Philimore Cambodia, one of three local agencies taking part in the pilot program, said his agency had thus far sent 30 workers, with another 40 undergoing training.

He admitted that Singapore agents had been pressuring him to speed up supply due to high demand, but said it was impossible due to a lack of awareness about the scheme and the need for extensive training.

“Because this is a pilot scheme, if we [send] the best, we can show the government that [our workers] are good and professional,” he said, adding that floods, religious holidays and the post-election situation had affected recruitment.

“Now I think it’s fine. This month and next month there should be more recruitment.”

But Mom Sokchar, program officer at NGO Legal Support for Children and Women, said he believed that burdensome $1,900 placement fees – paid off by deducting workers’ salaries for their first six months of employment – were turning people away.

“The fee is really high.… If we learn from the experience in Malaysia, a high service fee puts many female migrant workers in a bad situation,” he said. Sokchar added the terrible abuse suffered by some Cambodian domestic workers in Malaysia meant that people were now more reluctant to go abroad for domestic work.

Lyhock acknowledged the placement fee was a barrier, but said if the pilot goes well and Cambodia is recognised as a source country, agents expect to lower the fees significantly.

“Everyone wants it for free but how can [it be] free … because of the pilot our expenses are high,” he said.

Hou Vudthy, undersecretary of state at the Labour Ministry, said he was not aware of the delay and referred further questions to a spokesman who could not be reached.

By Kevin Monniah, The Phnom Penh Post

Published on 9 December 2013

Back to Top