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High Number of Migrant Workers Create Political, Economic Challenges

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.

There are now more than 1 million estimated Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand. This could be a threat to Cambodia’s economy and politics in the future, an analyst says.

Cambodian migrant workers can become political targets in that country, and others, even as their absence weakens the economy at home, Ou Virak, head of the think tank Future Forum, told “Hello VOA” Monday.

Thailand may see a royal succession take place in the next year or two, which would create more discord there, he said. For Cambodians, that can have an impact.

“What we are really concerned about is the economy,” he said. “The exodus of over 1 million migrant workers might cause chaos in Cambodia. They could face famine and hunger, because there seem to be no temporary services to assist them.”

In June and July last year, some 200,000 Cambodian migrant workers were either expelled from Thailand or left in the wake of political unrest and a crackdown on foreign workers.

Cambodians are increasingly seeking work abroad, especially in Malaysia, Thailand and South Korea. Remittances from that work amounts to nearly $1 billion annually—half of it from Thailand alone.

Heng Sour, a spokesman from the Ministry of Labor, said officials are working on programs to keep more workers at home. “Secondly, we are encouraging our people to choose to migrate legally, to get protection from both countries.”

Meanwhile, microfinance is posing new challenges to Cambodia, as it spreads without proper management, leading to greater debt and the loss of land, Ou Virak said. Cambodia should focus on agricultural reform, to tackle hunger, and industrial development for its long-term future, he said.

“Cambodia has no other choice but to get itself ready in the next 10 to 20 years to aim for industrial sector development to absorb all the work force,” he said. He remains optimistic that workers returning from South Korea will bring new skills from their work there in heavy industry, construction, and agriculture, he said.