Unmanageable debts are one of the main reasons why many Cambodians have felt forced to leave their homes and look for jobs across the Thai border.
This was revealed in a yet to be released survey conducted by the Centre for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (Central) done on 472 migrant workers who returned from Thailand in Kampung Thom, Siem Reap, Oddar Meanchey, Banteay Meanchey and Battambang provinces in September last year.
The other reasons cited were, among others, unemployment and being very poor.
During the survey, on the first question “Why did you migrate?” (Cambodia to Thailand), the top three answers were being in debt (309 respondents, 65.5 percent), unemployed (295, 62.5 percent) and “very poor” (266, 56.3 percent).
Other reasons included having too little farmland (211 respondents, 45 percent), having no farmland (212, 41 percent) and needing more income (175, 37.1 percent), not receiving profits for their produce (44 respondents, 9.3 percent) and following others across the border (38, 8.1 percent).
Central estimates that there are two million migrant workers in Thailand, by far home to the largest amount of Cambodian migrant workers. The second-largest concentration of migrant workers is in Malaysia, where there are an estimated 110,000 migrant workers, according to Central.
Central believes there are about 1,600,000 documented and 400,000 undocumented workers in Thailand.
Dy Thehoya, senior officer of Central’s Migration Programme, said hundreds of thousands of migrant workers’ documents expire on March 31 this year and many will be returning to Cambodia, mainly due to the slim to nil chances they have in renewing their documents on time.
According to a Central presentation provided to Khmer Times, the NGO found that COVID-19 had affected Cambodian migrant workers in a number of ways in Thailand, namely some were fired without compensation, some had their income and hours decreased, while others lost work when their factories closed.
Others have not been able to apply for legal documents while trafficking and labour exploitation had increased, according to Central.
It estimated that last year, about 130,000 migrant workers returned to Cambodia with them facing higher transportation fees as well as other costs associated with returning, such as carting luggage.
In response to the findings, Central issued several recommendations to the government which included providing land to farm as well as skills training.
The NGO also suggested guaranteeing prices for goods produced by farmers and standardising the recruitment process for migrant workers.
Central advocated for poor returning migrant workers to be legally identified as poor so they could receive government benefits. It also proposed suspending payments to banks and microfinance institutions.
Thehoya said social safety nets are not provided to the returning migrant workers.
When asked what choices the returned workers have, Thehoya said: “In Cambodia they farm. Some of them migrate to Phnom Penh for jobs. For anyone who does not have a job or a farm, they are forced to go back to Thailand.”
Ministry of Labour officials could not be reached for comment.