PHNOM PENH —
Interior Ministry figures show that around 100 Cambodian migrant workers were found attempting to return to Thailand despite the border being closed on account of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Statistics from the National Committee for Counter Trafficking showed that around 90,000 workers had returned from overseas because of the novel coronavirus outbreak, most of these migrant workers returned from Thailand. Chou Bun Eng, the vice chairperson for the committee, said that 106 workers had been sent back from Thailand for illegally crossing the border.
“They were returned from Thailand after the [Thai police] found them when they crossed the border,” she said.
Chou Bun Eng said brokers were helping workers sneak into Thailand for around $100, and that all migrant workers would likely have to stay in Cambodia for up to a year before they can return to work overseas.
Migrant workers who have returned from countries like Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam, have been facing a tough economic situation because the domestic economy, especially the critical garment and tourism sectors, have been severely hit by the global pandemic.
Interior Minister Sar Kheng last month raised concerns over the livelihood prospects of these migrant workers, suggesting they could slip back into poverty.
Chou Bun Eng said the ministry was preparing social support for migrant workers, including giving them ID poor cards enabling them to access some state services for free. The government is planning to make monetary transfers to ID poor residents, though Chou Bun Eng refused to elaborate on these plans but said that it would be a small amount.
“Not all of those who came back are poor. They have different situations,” she said. “That is why the government has now put in place measures to survey, to identify the real number of people who are ID poor and to include them on the list for this support.”
Dy Thehoya, a program officer at the Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (Central), said returning migrant workers were faced with mounting loan repayments and few job prospects in the country.
“The state should consider delaying loan repayments so that they so not face property confiscation,” he said. “So, if there is a measure to delay the payment of debt for them that would a contribution to reduce their problems.”
Central statistics show that there are around 2.2 million Cambodians working overseas, both legally and undocumented, of which 2 million were in Thailand.
Sun Chen, a migrant worker from Thailand who worked in the footwear sector, had returned in March and was now working as a construction worker. He was reluctant to reveal his remuneration but said that he was not making enough income to sustain a basic lifestyle.
“I am not sure [when I can go back]. I will go back when the border open”, he said.