In 2017, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) estimated that over one million of Cambodian nationals lived abroad. A majority of them are labour migrants seeking employment opportunities and better wages. Thailand is the preferred destination country for Cambodian labour migrants, where they are employed in construction, manufacturing and agricultural sectors. By 2017, as many as 723,911 Cambodian nationals were granted the right to reside in Thailand. However, according to a joint ILO and IOM study, less than a third of Cambodian migrants use regular channels of migration.
As Thailand began to curb the COVID-19 pandemic by reducing its economic activities and closing its borders, more than 100,000 Cambodian migrant workers have crossed the border from Thailand to Cambodia since March 2020. However, back in Cambodia these migrants face underreported challenges and vulnerabilities. Moreover, there are concerns whether returning migrants have access to adequate information on COVID-19 and resources to protect themselves against this virus. Therefore, IOM Cambodia conducted a survey to better understand the returning migrants’ challenges and vulnerabilities as well as their awareness of COVID-19 related information.
Data was collected remotely through phone-based surveys collected by eight IOM enumerators between 19 and 24 June 2020. The IOM Cambodia research team selected the five provinces with the highest numbers of returning migrants to be surveyed. In these provinces, a random sample of 242 respondents was identified and interviewed. The study targeted specifically Cambodian migrants who returned from Thailand between March and June 2020.
The survey results highlighted various socio-economic vulnerabilities and challenges experienced by migrants since their return to Cambodia. Nearly all respondents are concerned about their ability to find employment as their income levels have decreased. Migrants who have returned from Thailand have also reported lack of mental health, psychosocial and social support. It appears that the wave of returnees could contribute to altering the economic landscape in their host communities, as a small proportion of them have reported they would be keen to start their own business or start an income generating activity. As the vast majority of surveyed migrants still plan to re-migrate when it is safe to do so, the timely question whether these aspirations can be strengthened to become long-term investments to benefit the whole community remains unanswered.
- International Organization for Migration
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