Movement of People, Disease Across Border Raises Concerns

Medical researchers voiced concern yesterday that migrant laborers could carry drug-resistant malaria from the Thai-Cambodian border area near Pailin and Oddar Mean­chey provinces, where the disease has gained a foothold, to their home provinces.

Speaking at the International Conference on Mobility Patterns of Cambodian and Other Nationals in the South-East Asia Region, Frederic Bourdier said that the spread of parasites immune to traditional artemis­inin-based therapies may be facilitated by Cambodians moving through the disease corridor.

Mr Bourdier, a fellow at the Re­search Institute of Development in France, said that because as many as a third of Cambodians move every five years, and frequent movers are generally laborers with poor education, “more education is needed to prevent a broader health care problem” regarding the spread of the parasite.

Other researchers speaking at the event, which was sponsored by the UN Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking and NGOs including the Asia Foundation and the Coalition to Address Sexual Exploitation of Children in Cambodia, presented similarly sobering findings. Those who focused on male migration also bemoaned a lack of data.

“In the past, most human-trafficking studies have been done on women and children rather than on men, so there is less data,” said Louise Rose, the Asia Foundation’s program officer for the counter-trafficking in persons, who gave a presentation on illegal labor in the Gulf of Thailand.

Ms Rose said that the percentage of the 50,000 Cambodian men deported annually from Thailand who had been victims of trafficking was a critical unknown. The UN defines human trafficking as a crime of coercion that occurs when workers labor under duress—a condition countries have interpreted in varied ways.

In her presentation, based on interviews with returnees in Koh Kong province, Ms Rose described brokers who trick men into working on fishing boats that are registered in Thailand or Malaysia, where they are abused and forced to work for free. Twenty percent of the 258 Cambodian re­turnees from Thai­land interviewed for the unfinished study cited by Ms Rose had been forced into something akin to maritime slavery.

Bith Kimhong, chief of the Interior Ministry’s anti-human trafficking department, claimed yesterday that human trafficking has decreased so far this year compared to 2009, but Sith Luos, director of the Banteay Meanchey provincial anti-human trafficking police, expressed exasperation with the lack of available intelligence on human trafficking along the Thai border.

“Even to identify the victims of human trafficking is very difficult, because the men are scared and won’t talk,” Mr Luos said.

John Vijghen, a founder of COSECAM and the chairman of the conference, was eager to point out that not all migrants are trafficking victims—a point he illustrated with the success of Vietnam’s open remittance program, which has funneled billions of dollars in overseas salaries back to that country.

Cambodia would be poorer if it weren’t for laborers earning money abroad, Mr Vijghen said.

            (Additional reporting by Khy Sovuthy)

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