… Once again, I would like to express my deep thanks to foreign friends and development partners for providing always their financial and technical support to strengthening mechanism and taking measures to raise high work efficiency against drug trafficking in Cambodia at both national and international level…

Measures Taken to Facilitate Flow of Undocumented Workers Returned from Thailand

I am sure some of you here might have been sleepy as there was a football match at 3 am. Maybe there are many of you, because it is the World Cup football event, which happens once in four years. For the World Cup event this time, it seems many European countries have failed to make it to the final. While Spain and Italy finished with disappointments only France, Switzerland, Greece, etc. are the remaining teams for the moment for the European continent.

Cambodia has also met with a big problem. It is like a breaking down of a huge dam. After the coup and the implementation of the martial law, that caused influx of undocumented and some documented workers back to Cambodia, the impact has been beyond our estimation. According to the figures provided by the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training, as of 23 June, Cambodia registered a figure of over 240,000 returned workers. The figure may have reached 250,000 as we speak. It is a big figure and we had to take immediate action to resolve the situation. Without waiting for instruction on paper, national and local institutions, especially the Cambodian-Thai border authority, have illustrated their responsibilities. The province of Banteay Meanjei is the one that is facing heavier impact.

On behalf of the Royal Government, I would like to express my sincere appreciation for the authority stationed at the Cambodian-Thai border, including also relevant competent authorities, the armed forces and concerned parties, for their efforts to face with such an enormous task we have ever met. In the border war in 2011, we had only a couple of thousands of displaced people. In this state of emergency, sometimes in just one single day, we had to accommodate 40,000 people transported by Thai side to the border area without prior notification. We had to take immediate measures to help our compatriots resolve their hardships.

The operation has been rapid and inclusive. Thanks to use of all out measures and means, we have been able to resolve the incremental flow in of undocumented workers from beginning to end. With request from the provincial authority, I have allowed the Thai trucks to come and drop workers off inside Cambodian territory. Initially, lacking of information from the Thai side, we only advised leasing local trucks and the service provided by the International Organization of Migration. Their capacity was not a match to the flow. As Prime Minister, I ordered immediately to the Ministry of National Defence to release transportation intervention unit of the armed forces – military, police and engineering teams, to make it up to the job.

We have over three hundreds trucks and each one of them has run thousands of Kilometres now in this operation. It is worth noting that we have carried out this enormous task in a responsible manner. Initially the step taken firstly by the provincial authority along the border areas – Battambang, Pailin, Uddar Meanjei, Preah Vihear and mainly Banteay Meanjei, with participation from all levels of concerned parties. This should be a good lesson to learn and be prepared in the time to come. We cannot trade blame on one another. We must take it to the task right on spot.

It is an experiment in real-life leadership as unforeseen circumstance would call for and surface the capacity of our officials in resolving problems. It is quite ordinary to work in a routine condition in which everything happens according to plan. However, unforeseen circumstance is in fact the determined factor to judge national and sub-national leaders’ capacity and responsibility.

Despite the fact that we have had to deal with this unexpected event, I am taking much pride with our people on our responsibility, especially every concerned institution – governmental, Cambodian Red Cross, scout, Union of the Federations of Youth, civil society, Buddhist monks, charitable people – that intervened with necessary assistance from food, transportation to management of the facilitation and flow. They have done a great job receiving them at the border but also carried out follow-up action inside the country. Local authority has gone on to visit them at their destinations and review their movements. I am taking this opportunity to express my sincere thanks and appreciation to those efforts.

No Political Extortion

The task has indeed reflected our sincere responsibility. We take no consideration on who might or might not have voted for the Party. We did not extort the situation for political gain. Irrespective of their political inclination, we offer them similar assistance. There have been some casualties and deaths in the course of transporting on the Thai side. On behalf of the Royal Government and my own behalf, I am grateful to every effort made as well as cooperation responded by returned workers as they accepted the service provided and managed by the Royal Government without hesitation.

As circumstance commands, I have ordered even heavy trucks without roof to help with the task from engineering team of General Kheng Samet. Our people have been patient despite the fact that they had to continue their journey in those trucks. If we were to ignore the call and indecisive in handling the matter, as of this moment, we might have noticed some making their journey homes in in-disciplinary manner.

Local Jobs Availability Information

For the time to come, we must figure out two points. The first point we are looking at is to find local jobs for our workers. We have carried out preliminary works at the provincial level. Demand for workers in Thailand has prompted emigration of short-term workers from Cambodia. Mostly they left at the start of dry season and returned at the start of rainy season to cultivate rice. We also have families in which a number of members migrated for jobs in Thailand and when they returned, their families do not have rice field large enough to cultivate for their need. Many jobs are available in the country. It may be true that they may earn more in Thailand than the job they do in the country. However, as far as expense is concerned, it would cost them more in Thailand than in Cambodia. Therefore, the fact that you would earn more in Thailand would not be better as you also have to pay higher cost too. It is safer to work in the country as you have rights and freedom.

I would urge the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training give more attention to this situation. I also learn that in the province of Kompong Chhnang, they have found thousands of jobs for our workers already in the field of agriculture, industry and service. I would also advise that authorities and relevant institutions at the sub-national level, including provincial office of labour and vocational training, should do what they can to provide information on job availability, in addition to sole reliance on the Ministry. Some radio stations broadcast job information for workers to migrate but no information about local job availability. I think this is the point we should pay more attention. We have plenty of jobs in rubber companies and plantation, for example. Information on job market is very important. The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training must carry out this task with participation from involved sectors.

Legal Migrant Workers for Jobs in Foreign Countries

The Royal Government of Cambodia also leads in seeking external job market, Thailand included, for our people too. Some said Hun Sen has failed to resolve demand for jobs inside the country that many workers migrated to foreign job markets. I accept this version of criticism. However, they should know how big the Cambodian job market is and if allowing people to find jobs in a foreign country only happens in Cambodia. I would not want to trade words with anyone here but just remind that the Philippines seems to be the leading country in exporting millions of workers to foreign market, like in Hong Kong, where they work as housemaid, nanny, etc. There are many Philippines in Malaysia and Singapore too.

Thailand also exports their workers to foreign job market, especially the Middle East and Taiwan where they can find better pay. It is in this instance that there is a higher demand for workers in Thailand. There maybe three countries in ASEAN that do not export workers to foreign job markets – Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei. As for Cambodia, in order to have access to the South Korean job market, I have worked with and through a number of Presidents – Kim Youngsam, Kim Daejung, Roh Moo Hyun and Lee Myung Bak. The president of South Korea now is Madame Park Geunhye. There has been a tough competition from Thailand to send their workers there.

Job market of South Korea has demanded workers from Thailand, Vietnam and other countries. It is important for our workers to learn Korean language along with a skill to get a job in Korea. Our purpose of sending workers to Korea is not only better wage but also better technical skill when they return to Cambodia. In my recent visit to Japan, I also made a request to Prime Minister HE Shinzo Abe to consider allowing Cambodian workers access to the Japanese job market. In Malaysia, we have transferred Cambodian workers from undocumented to legal ones. We make effort to establish a memorandum of understanding on migration for jobs in Thailand. We will also try to transfer them from undocumented to legal workers by, in cooperation with Thai authority, sending working team to register them on spot.

Crisis to Opportunity, Support to NCPO

In my opinion, we must transform this crisis into a new opportunity. Initial transportation of workers to the border was in part a mistake from Thai side as it was a violation of rights. However, when there was immediate intervention of the Cambodian embassy to Bangkok and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Phnom Penh as well as concerned sectors, The Thais have taken measures to respect human rights in the transportation of workers to the border. General Prayuth Chan O Cha, who leads Thailand in his capacity as Chairman of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) and commander-in-Chief of the Thai army, sent me two letters – dated 12 June explaining me the situation in Thailand and dated 18 June addressing the workers issue.

I think both sides are close to same frequency. Let me read parts of the letter for you:  “I would guarantee once again to Samdech and the people of the Kingdom of Cambodia, we do not have intention to use force or issue order to chase out migrant workers … NCPO is seeking cooperation with companies to gather lists of documented and undocumented workers to establish an appropriate process to ascertain they can continue to work legally … with protection of their rights and wellbeing while working in Thailand.”

In my response, I have written in two important paragraphs: “… I would inform Your Excellency that over the past weeks, thousands of Cambodian workers, mostly undocumented ones, abandoned their works in Thailand because they fear of crack down on illegal workers …”; and “… I wish to express my support to action and measures taken by NCPO to guarantee that rights and well-being of the migrant workers are protected in Thailand.” Currently, Thailand does not yet have either a government or Prime Minister. General Prayuth Chan O Cha is currently taking care of Thailand as a Prime Minister.

Since the current Thai leaders have been taking measures and actions against human traffickers, while legalize migrant workers from Cambodia, Myanmar ands Laos, it is a great opportunity for us to establish legal status of our workers who find jobs in Thailand. It seems now documented workers return to Thailand. That is fine. However, we still have undocumented workers left in Thailand. The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training, with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, must carry on with the task to help them attain legal status. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent me a report of the work realized between our Ambassador to Thailand and General Thanasak (Patimaprakorn), Vice Chairman of the NCPO on 23 June 2014, in which it requires active factors from both side in order to fulfil this task of legalising our workers.

Passports for Workers and Students Free of Charge

As both sides have shortcomings so far, now either side tries to improve. On our side, in relation to passport, we have decided that the state will issue passports for workers free of charge. Each worker requesting for a passport will only pay four USD for taking photo. As far as this point is concerned, if the person already possesses photo, s/he also does not have to pay the four USD mentioned in the sub-decree (applause). As I see that the Thai Ambassador is here, I wish to share with him that we are now getting close to one another. While on Thai side, you take certain measures, we, on the Cambodian side, also take some measures.

That the Thai companies and enterprises recruited illegally Cambodian workers to work in Thailand has been usual practice, they not only cheat the Cambodian workers but also the Royal Thai Government. The duration required for the issuance of passport would be twenty days for both migrant workers and students who win scholarships to study abroad. Students to go abroad on scholarship will need to present confirmation from the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports.

Yesterday there was a meeting led by Acting Minister of Interior HE Em Sam An as HE Sar Kheng, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior was absent. I instructed HE Sar Kheng to decentralize passport issuance office to local level that those who need to apply for ones do not have to come all the way to Phnom Penh. We should start with prioritized target provinces like Kompong Cham, Prey Veng, Takeo, Kompot, etc. In order to simplify this matter, it is best to localize passport office in all 25 provinces and municipalities. Well, maybe Phnom Penh and Kandal province could be treated as one. However, as a commencing step, we need to focus on the mentioned provinces. I am sure the Ministry of Interior will work it out together with the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training.

The issue here is not to do a favour for those who go to work or study in Thailand but for a general case. We must consider it a very important public service provision for the people. We must carry out this job very well to respond to the efforts made on the Thai side to convert undocumented workers to legal ones. It is also our intention for our workers to work in Thailand legally.

Treatment for Workers and Release of Those Arrested

I would seek to propose to the Thai Ambassador here openly to take good care of the remaining Cambodian workers and that are being transported to the border. Please look after their health and condition. Secondly, documented workers who have come to the country because their spouses have not been documented, and are now considering of going back, would you please provide them favourable condition for them to be together. This should also include thousands who have been applying for working visas to Thailand.

Another case in point, I am urging the drop of case against ten Cambodians, who may face trial even, since the Thai court decided that they have been guilty in creating fake paper. People with fake papers must be arrested, like what happened in the Sra Keo province of Thailand. You may learn that there have been cases that my signature and stamp has been forged. Applying in the case of the Cambodian workers, how many of them could have lost money in pursuance for paper that they would not be able to distinguish between genuine and fake? While thanking the Thai leaders, I would convey this issue through you to General Prayuth Chan O Cha for his consideration. On July 1, at 4pm, I will receive HE Sihasak Phuangketkeow, permanent secretary of foreign affairs as envoy of HE Prayuth Chan O Cha.

Working Visas in Thailand

I wish to add that with only passport it is not yet legal. You need to have a working visa issued by the Thai authority or your Cambodian passport would be useless. You would be illegal still. Even when you have passport you should not consider it legal to enter Thailand. You need to ask for visas from Thai embassy in order to legalize your stay and work in Thailand. As to how to proceed with the issue, the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training has been in contact and work with over forty companies that are dealing with exporting workers. They have to guarantee with workers while processing passports, visas application and go to Thailand in discipline.

I am calling on all concerned parties, starting from the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training, the companies involved in exporting workers plus those who authorize passports to act in tandem to help our workers return to work in Thailand legally. Workers from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia have all contributed to the profit of Thai businesses. While many have left Thailand, those companies and enterprises suffer losses because they could not find replacement to guarantee full-swing operation. I urge everyone involved in this business of exporting workers to job markets either in Thailand, Korea or in Taiwan, a province of China, to reconsider their action. As General Prayuth Chan O Cha wrote to me his wish to legalize the matter, and as both sides have the same wish, it is high time to move on this matter and I am calling for direct cooperation from workers themselves with the facilitation provided by concerned players – Interior, Labour and Vocational Training, etc.

Talking about transportation, I would like to express my sincere thank to the Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China for giving Cambodia those trucks when the US slashed their assistance to Cambodia. While declaring that they slashed aid to Cambodia, in fact, they gave us still. However, when they declared doing that I went on to see HE Hu Jintao in Shanghai. He then offered 257 trucks. It is lucky that we have them and used them to help transport our workers. Even if we were not given, we would have to buy them anyway because we need them at hand. I am so content to see that there has been high responsible works done in this matter or we would have many workers left stranded not arriving home yet. I also thank relevant institutions and groups, political parties included, for sharing the load at their own energy.

Thanks to the working result of HE Thanasak and Cambodian Ambassador Ith Sophea, the Thai side affirmed that they would lower the price of a working permit in correspondence the Cambodian effort in providing passport for the workers. This sounds very much like a common point and I would urge both sides to work fruitfully to resolve the matter smoothly. I am also reiterating my call for the civil society organizations – national and international, the UN agencies and donor countries to continue the spirit of concerted efforts and participation aimed at uplifting further the wellbeing, development and reduction of poverty among our people./.