Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday defended his government’s often-criticized record on trying to find work for Cambodian citizens overseas, claiming he was working hard to find jobs in the Middle East for the country’s Muslims.
“[S]ome of our brothers and sisters have mocked the government by saying the government has built a lot but people have become slaves to others,” he said, referring to the many Cambodians working abroad illegally. “But they should see that the way for workers is opening widely through regional integration and relationships with every country.”
For example, he said, “we are trying to find work for our people in the Middle East where [the countries] can help provide jobs to our Muslim community.”
Mr. Hun Sen, speaking at a university graduation ceremony for human resources students in Phnom Penh, did not go into any detail about what those efforts were.
A spokesman for the Labor Ministry could not be reached for comment.
The number of Cambodians overseas jumped 160 percent between 2000 and 2015, rising to about 1.2 million, according to a report on migration launched on Thursday by the Cambodia Development Resource Institute and the Development Center of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
The report concludes that the Cambodian government has failed to integrate migration into its national development plans, at the cost of forcing Cambodians to migrate out of necessity rather than choice and keeping the country from reaping the full benefits of their work.
In 2014, the government allowed a local recruitment agency to start sending workers to Qatar, which has been undergoing a construction boom in preparation for the 2022 football World Cup.
The following year, however, amid international reports that the Qataris were abusing the foreign workers flooding in from other developing countries, the government said the approval it had given the agency was not final.
Many thousands of Cambodians are also believed to be still working in Thailand illegally despite the government’s efforts to make them all legal by streamlining and lowering fees of necessary paperwork.
Efforts to send Cambodians to Malaysia and Singapore to work as maids have also ended in disaster following reports of financial and physical abuse by their employers.
The government inked a new deal this week to start sending maids to Hong Kong, though rights groups are skeptical the government has the means to keep them safe.