Rights Group Calls on Government To Protect Migrant Workers

While the government says it helped more than 90,000 Cambodian migrants in Thailand obtain legal status in the country last year, a leading labor rights group is calling for measures to protect hundreds of thousands who are still working off the radar.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry assisted 97,109 Cambodians in securing work visas in Thailand last year, compared to 68,174 in 2015, according to a report released on Wednesday.

Cambodian migrant workers arrive at the Poipet border crossing in Banteay Meanchey province. (John Vink)

The number of Cambodians working in Thailand alone is estimated to be as high as 1 million, however, meaning many rural border areas in Cambodia are emptied of working-age adults who have crossed the border to find better-paying jobs.

In what was seen as an effort to improve services, the government last month appointed one of the country’s most senior diplomats to run the embassy in Thailand.

Moeun Tola, who runs the labor rights NGO Central, said the government had dedicated more attention to addressing the issue of illegal migrant workers, but the response from embassy officials remained reactive rather than proactive.

“In general, the Cambodian government, including Cambodian embassies in some countries, is not effectively or sufficiently providing legal assistance to migrant workers,” Mr. Tola said.

He added that the existing memorandum of understanding on labor between Cambodia and Thailand failed to protect migrant workers or safeguard their right to join unions.

In its report on migration, the Foreign Affairs Ministry said that repatriations from across Asia and the Middle East had also increased last year, with 816 Cambodians returned home, compared to 573 the year before.

Ministry spokesman Chum Sounry attributed the rise in repatriations to the ministry’s improved efforts to provide assistance.

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