As Loan Payments Approach, Indebted Migrant Workers Face Economic Uncertainty

Informal financial service providers have been a traditional source of unregulated, and pricey, debt for Cambodians, even with the more recent proliferation of profit-making microfinance institutions.

Min Sarun and Neang Chantrea reached the Ban Laem border checkpoint in Chanthaburi, Thailand, on the morning of April 2. Around a hundred Cambodian migrant workers were waiting to cross into the country. They were informed that the Cambodia-Thai border had been closed to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Unable to cross the border and desperate to return to Takeo province, the couple were told that for a fee of 1,500 baht each, a total of approximately $92, they could cross the border. Min Sarun and Neang Chantrea quickly agreed, made the payment and were escorted through three kilometers of wooded area till they reached a clearing. It was a small, military-controlled checkpoint.

“At the informal checkpoint, there were no government officials, only military officials,” said 40-year-old Min Sarun. “Our nephew came to pick us up from there.”

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