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Workers Say Asean Integration Won’t Bring Them Home


Cambodian migrant workers get off from a Thai truck upon their arrival from Thailand at Cambodia-Thai international border gate in Poipet, Cambodia, Tuesday, June 17, 2014. The number of Cambodians who have returned home from Thailand this month after a threatened crackdown on foreigners working illegally has topped 160,000, a Cambodian official said Monday. Thai officials insist the cross-border movement is voluntary and is not forced repatriation. They say Thai military and government resources were used to transport workers who decided to return home after being laid off because they were working illegally. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Cambodian migrant workers get off from a Thai truck upon their arrival from Thailand at Cambodia-Thai international border gate in Poipet, Cambodia, Tuesday, June 17, 2014. The number of Cambodians who have returned home from Thailand this month after a threatened crackdown on foreigners working illegally has topped 160,000, a Cambodian official said Monday. Thai officials insist the cross-border movement is voluntary and is not forced repatriation. They say Thai military and government resources were used to transport workers who decided to return home after being laid off because they were working illegally. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

When Asean more closely integrates economically later this year, more goods and services will flow freely between member states.

But that will likely mean a greater outflow of Cambodian workers abroad, and not the reverse, workers say. That includes travel to countries outside Asean, like South Korea, where wages are higher.

A free market, exchange of labor and investments under the Asean integration won’t help bring Cambodian workers back home, Yim Sinorn, president of the Youth Movement in South Korea, told “Hello VOA” from South Korea. “They can’t go back to work in Asean, or Cambodia.”

Low wages are the main issue, he said, and it is unlikely Cambodia will see manufacturers of goods like cars or electronics any time soon. That means it will have “a huge flow” of workers moving to other Asean states. Meanwhile, places like South Korea, where the minimum wage is $1,200 per month, versus Cambodia’s $128, remain attractive to many workers, he said.

Cambodian workers lack marketable technical skills, and the country has not done enough to attract large investment, nor to curb corruption and a biased judiciary, so Asean integration is a major concern, he said. “When Cambodia integrates into the Asean economic community, there will be double the flow of our immigrant workers.”

Pring Chheng, a chemical products worker in South Korea, said Thursday he had left Cambodia, where he worked as a junior high school teacher, because the wages at home are too low for him to survive. “I am ready to go back to Cambodia if our country has a stable political situation and a responsible leader,” he said.

Cambodia has an estimated 30,000 legal workers in South Korea, and another 250,000 in Thailand.

Haing Sary a Cambodian worker in Thailand, told VOA Khmer by phone that he would prefer to work back home. “If our country had more jobs to do, I would go back,” he said. “I don’t want to stay in Thailand. It’s difficult to live here.”

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