Each year the 2.2 percent of Cambodia’s population that lives abroad pours $353 million into the Cambodian economy, but those numbers represent just a fraction of what they could be, according to a report released yesterday by the UN Development Program.
The 2009 Human Development Report, “Overcoming barriers: Human mobility and development,” calls on countries on both ends of the migration path to consider the social, political and economic benefits of encouraging domestic labor to go abroad and foreign labor to enter.
“This is distinctively one of the pillars of growth,” said John McGeoghan, project coordinator at International Organization of Migration in Phnom Penh. “In the Cambodian context, it’s essential they [encourage migration] to some extent,” given the nearly 300,000 young people entering the labor force each year, according to statistics from the International Labor Organization. “They’re going to have to get out of Dodge.”
According to David Van, a freelance consultant to the private sector, Cambodia is far from the point where it could send workers abroad as a viable financial strategy. “I do not see that Cambodian workers have the skills to do this on the large scale, like in Thailand…”
Perhaps more important than boosting the skill set of workers is combating the cost, the report suggests. “Under agreements between Thailand, Cambodia and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, recruitment fees are equivalent to four to five months’ salary, processing time averages about four months and 15 percent of wages are withheld pending the migrant’s return home. In contrast, smugglers in these corridors reportedly charge the equivalent of one month’s salary.” That disparity can lead to workers ending up in “horrible conditions,” notes Mr McGeoghan.
A lack of education, coupled with the high costs of emigrating through the proper channels, means there is likely a far higher number of undocumented migrants from Cambodia, who open themselves to rights violations, such as poor labor conditions, no access to health care and educational barriers for their children, the report noted.