New Battambang Passport Office Caters to Migrant Workers

The government announced Monday that it will open a new passport office in the northwest province of Battambang, the first such office outside Phnom Penh.

In a statement, posted to the Ministry of Interior website, the ministry said that the new passport office will serve people living in the western provinces. The statement did not say when the office would open, but said the decision was taken to “reduce the time and fee of traveling to make a passport in Phnom Penh’s passport office.”

Major General Vuth Phally, the director of the Interior Ministry’s passport department, said that the government will also create new passports that remain valid for 10 years without renewal, as opposed to current passports, which can be used for up to seven years but need to be renewed either three or five years after they are issued.

“The passport office will issue new passports with 64 pages and a 10-year date of expiration, without renewal, for people to have an easier time traveling abroad and for workers migrating overseas,” Maj. Gen. Phally said.

Since Thailand threatened in December to deport all undocumented foreign workers, which include some 160,000 Cambodians, officials in Bangkok and Phnom Penh have made a number of moves to facilitate the documenting of migrant workers.

In December, Thailand began to issue identity cards to Cambodian workers who were working there without proper documentation. The move effectively gave them legal status to work in Thailand. In February, the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok then announced that it would issue passports for $74, a discount on the $124 price tag for passports obtained in Phnom Penh.

Speaking Monday from Thailand, 25-year-old Cheat Kunthea, who moved to Thailand from Takeo province to work in a factory about four years ago, claimed that she had to pay almost $500 for her passport at the Phnom Penh office, which she said is a common experience for migrant workers in Thailand and explains why there are so few Cambodians with passports.

“Some people needed to come here urgently, so they didn’t have time to make a passport. But others didn’t have enough money to make the passport. It is expensive. You have to pay $500 or $600. How can they pay that much mon­ey? So they take a risk to come here,” she said.

In December, Prime Minister Hun Sen angrily refuted comments in a Cambodian News Channel interview with an NGO staff member who claimed that the large number of migrant workers in Thailand without passports was due to their high cost in Cambodia.

Mr. Hun Sen said the television station should not have interviewed such “stupid” people, whom he accused of “poisoning” society.

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