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High Costs Push Prey Veng Migration

Since she migrated to Phnom Penh nearly a year ago, 45-year-old Chhon Vanna has had no chance to visit her family in Prey Veng province.

"I don't have money to visit there," she said, as she boxed up dried fish to sell at a nearby garment factory. "Since I lost profits from rice cultivation, I've face shortages of money a lot, and sometimes my family doesn't have money to buy food."

As stark as her conditions are in Phnom Penh, she says, they are better than Prey Veng, where increased prices for fuel and fertilizer have forced her and thousands of others to quit farming and look for work elsewhere.

Chhon Vanna abandoned her rice fields in Choeung Teuk commune, Kampong Leav district, last year and began her small fish-selling business here, following sharp decreases to her income over three years.

She remains in debt in Prey Veng, owing about $1,000 to fertilizer and fuel sellers. She sought help from her home commune, but received none, forcing her to move to Phnom Penh.

In Phnom Penh, she, her husband and three children rent a small room adjacent to their landlord's home, for about $20 per month. Her fish sales bring in as much as $4 per day, but she can easily lose nearly as much, she said.

Her children have abandoned school and her 18-year-old son has become a porter, hauling bundles of factory garments into trucks.

Back in her home commune of Choeung Teuk, among the dirt roads, rice fields and a small river, many villagers say their children have been forced to leave to find work, in Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville, or as far away as Thailand.

About 5,500 residents live in the commune, but 400 of them have migrated to other provinces and cities of Cambodia and Thailand to find jobs and businesses, said Mao Roeurn, 56, Cambodian People's Party first deputy chief of Choeung Teuk commune.

Mao Roeurn noted that migration from her commune to Thailand occurred in 2003 and about seven migrants were imprisoned shortly for entering Thailand illegally.

Mao Roeurn said her four children, including two are daughters, unofficially migrated to Thailand a few years ago to work on fishing boats, adding that they have often sent money to her and her husband.

Chan Kanha, project assistant for the International Organization for Migration in Phnom Penh, said Cambodian migrants are sent to work in Malaysia, Thailand and South Korea.

From 1998 to 2008, nearly 12,000 Cambodians were sent to work as maids and factory workers in Malaysia, while more than 7,000 people between 2006 and 2008 went to work in factories and enterprises in Thailand. Nearly 4,000 found work in factories, farms and fisheries of South Korea between 2003 and 2006.

In Malaysia, some of them were forced to work overtime, but many workers abroad form associations to help them solve difficulties, she said.

It is unknown the total number of Cambodian migrants abroad. Nor is it known how many might return for the July 27 election.

The National Election Committee has sought to help migrants vote by pushing for days off around Election Day and appeals to taxi and bus operators to keep costs low for traveling voters.

Prey Veng has 11 National Assembly seats and nine political parties seeking to fill them.

Chhon Vanna says she will take time off from her fish-selling when it comes time to vote, and she will finally make her trip back to Prey Veng, along with her younger brother, Chhon Duongchan.

"I will vote to choose good leaders who take care of poor farmers and can lower the price of goods," he said.