The COVID-19 outbreak has severely affected thousands of Cambodian labor migrants working in various host countries, particularly in Thailand and Malaysia. These countries have responded to the pandemic with lockdowns and other restrictive measures, leaving migrant workers in uncertain situations, having to make the choice of whether to return home or to remain stranded in a foreign country with little support.
While sending countries like Cambodia have, throughout the pandemic, faced the challenge of assisting and repatriating these marginalized workers, ensuring that returned migrants have received full payments and benefits according to the laws of destination countries is a different problem entirely.
Looking back, one thing is certain: hasty repatriations complicated the efforts of Cambodian migrant workers seeking redress for labor disputes and violations of their rights. The pandemic must serve as a learning moment for countries that send and receive migrant workers alike. We need to take a more nuanced and well planned approach to repatriation, beyond using it as a form of emergency assistance. We also must be sure that the full scope of migrants’ rights are not forgotten along the way.