WASHINGTON DC —
Cambodian migrant workers working legally or illegally in neighboring Thailand and other countries in the region have remitted more than $1 billion dollars annually, which contributes significantly to the economy, an opposition lawmaker says. But their emigration has affected local farming as well, emptying rural villages, Mu Sochua, a lawmaker for the Cambodia National Rescue Party, said in an interview.
“They have no choice, but to migrate overseas and are still being cheated by some companies,” she said.
Cambodians deserve good jobs and fair treatment, both at home and abroad, she said.
“They pay the service fees themselves, and once they are at work in the neighboring country, Malaysia or Korea, they don’t receive enough safety,” she said.
More than one million people have migrated to work in Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan, due to the lack of farmland or markets for agricultural products, or due to unemployment or a lack of well-paid jobs. Many leave their children under the care of grandparents, and some go into debt as a result of the move.
But one of the main concerns is the effect of all this rural migration on Cambodia’s agriculture.
“Our biggest challenge is that the majority of the migrant workers are the children of farmers,” Mu Sochua said. “This means that the problem is agriculture in the countryside. We are unable to help farmers work in their rice fields and farms.”
Workers who migrate to Thailand also work in rice fields and plantations, but they can earn almost $10 per day—far more than they can at home.
Mu Sochua said she believes the best solution is to create jobs in the country to help tens of thousands of people entering the labor market each year.
“It’s not just a job, but there should be decent work and wages as well,” she said.
The government should be smart in sending workers abroad, she said, which means maintaining the balance in the workforce, between laborers who earn money to send back to their families, and those who would benefit more from working locally.