Amid military control and political tension in Thailand, 220,000 migrants flooded back into Cambodia in late June 2014. In an effort to crack down on illegal migration in Thailand, the military threatened to arrest anyone working illegally if they did not return home. Illegal migrants like Kimsan (pictured) returned to Cambodia out of fear for their safety if they continue working in Thailand illegally. CAREs Safe Migration and Reduced Trafficking (SMART) project has been operating for over two years providing communities with real information about safe migration so that they are less vulnerable to factors such as sexual and labour exploitation and human trafficking.
CARE and our local partner Cambodian Women for Peace and Development (CWPD) spoke to Kimsan about his migration experience as well as educating him about how to safely migrate.
Kimsan is 33 years old and comes from Trea Village in Prey Veng province. He left his village with his wife and one year old son in 2012 after his neighbour had returned from Thailand as a construction worker and told him about the good money he could make. Given the lack of employment opportunities in Prey Veng and the poor working conditions and low paying jobs available in Phnom Penh, Kimsan and his wife made the decision to go illegally to work in Thailand. As both Kimsan and his wife’s parents had died, they had no option but to take their young son with them.
After paying a broker 2500 baht ($75US) to take them to the Thai border, Kimsan and his family had to walk by foot through forest for two days before being collected by a car in Thailand which ha been arranged by their broker. Kimsan spoke about how afraid his family was, particularly as they did not speak any Thai and had to hide for up to four hours at time so that they would not be seen by anyone who might alert the authorities.
At the construction site there were 30 women and 70 men along with 9 children. Men were responsible for hard labour including cementing and brick laying, whilst women were given lighter tasks. Children were left unsupervised and would play nearby or stay inside the basic bungalows that were provided for sleeping. Kimsan was paid 250baht ($7.50US) for an eight hour work day with no weekends or days off and 40baht ($1.30US) per hour of overtime. Not long after beginning his job, local authorities found out Kimsan was an undocumented migrant and he was arrested. After three days in prison, Kimsan’s manager was alerted and was required to pay 1000baht ($30US) for his release and a further bribe of 500baht ($15US) each month, paid by Kimsan, to remain on the construction site as an undocumented migrant.
On June 15 2014 after almost two years in Thailand, Kimsan and his family voluntarily decided to return to Cambodia after Thai militarily threatened to arrest migrants who were working in Thailand illegally. To return to the Cambodian/Thai border, Kimsan had to pay a 1000baht transport fee which was the equivalent of four days of work.
Now back in Trea Village, Kimsan was very saddened to see his house had been badly damaged after been uninhabited for two years. Kimsan told CARE that even if he could make the same wage in Cambodia, he would still choose to go back to Thailand because working conditions are much better. He says he plans to go back with his wife and son returning the legal way, but does not know how.
This is where CARE plays an important role. CARE and CWPD spent some time with Kimsan to explain the process of safe migration and what Kimsan needs to do before he decides to migrate again. Although the process of safe migration can be more costly and timely (because of the lengthy process for passports and visas) it is by far the safer option. Despite working conditions being better in Thailand, including incentives such as free healthcare, many illegal migrants have not been as lucky as Kimsan. Those most vulnerable include female domestic workers and men working on Thai fishing vessels who are forced to work for up to 20 hours a day and are often not paid.
Because of the SMART project, Kimsan now knows how his family can return to Thailand the safe way and he can also spread the key messages for safe migration within his community. He also has CAREs hotline number that he can call 24/7 if he or his family ever gets into trouble. By providing Kimsan with real information for safe migration- information that he did not have access to before he left Cambodia, means the risks to himself and his family are greatly reduced.
Kimsan hopes to return to Thailand with his family as legal migrants and save enough money so that they can rebuild their house, start a small business and send their son to school.