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Many Migrant Workers Don’t Understand the Dangers

Cambodian migrant workers get off from a Thai truck upon their arrival from Thailand at a 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.

Experts say migrant laborers lack basic information about threats to them abroad, making them vulnerable to exploitation.

Experts say migrant laborers lack basic information about threats to them abroad, making them vulnerable to exploitation.

Many Cambodians are driven by poverty to seek work outside the country, and some find themselves in dire conditions, working for little or no wages in dangerous industries.

Earlier this month, four illegal workers from Cambodia returned from abroad after six months of exploitation. One of them, Meung Kong Kea, 18, said he had never heard of labor exploitation before he left. But rather than get the $300 a month he was promised by a broker to work on a farm in Malaysia, he received just $50. Worse, he became ill from chemicals on the farm.

“After I worked there for a month, I started vomiting and bleeding,” he said. “I told my boss that I was sick and unable to work, but he still forced me to do it. The work is so hard, and I got paid less.”

He escaped the farm and was able to get to the Cambodian Embassy. Suy Sokly, his mother, said she too had never known the dangers of worker exploitation abroad. “When I saw him, I cried,” she said. “I didn’t ever expect that he was still alive and would be able to come back. I was so lucky that he was rescued.”

In a report issued this year, the rights group Adhoc says Cambodia’s tight labor market and low labor costs push workers abroad, especially into commercial fishing, agricultural labor, construction and factories. When workers choose illegal brokers, which can be a faster route to employment, they risk being cheated.

Chhan Sokunthea, head of the women and children’s rights section for Adhoc, said the lack of basic information about safe migration means brokers have an easy time deceiving workers. Such information could be provided by the ministries of Information or Labor, she said. “Those living in rural areas mostly get their information from the brokers,” she said. “The broker moves from village to village.”

However, Chou Bun Eng, secretary of state for the Ministry Interior and vice chairman of the National Committee To Combat Human Trafficking, says the government does disseminate information to potential migrant workers.

But she said those who seek employment abroad must do more to educate themselves. “Those who were cheated did not listen to media or education, but they believed the brokers,” she said. “Our citizens are so passive in accessing information.”