The UN and Cambodia are creating a six-month $1 million programme to help migrant workers from Thailand who returned to Banteay Meanchey, Battambang and Siem Reap.
Interior Minister Sar Kheng led a meeting on Wednesday with related ministries and the UN in Cambodia called “The Joint Programme to Support Returning Migrant Workers During the Covid-19 Pandemic and Its Impacts”.
“I hope this programme will be well implemented. If we do this work well for six months and use the money effectively, we will get more support from the UN,” said Sar Kheng.
Chou Bun Eng, a secretary of state at the Interior Ministry said during the meeting that from March 21 through July 13, more than 100,000 Cambodians returned from Thailand – 58 per cent to the three provinces.
Bun Eng said four UN institutions – the International Organisation for Migration, the World Health Organisation, the UN Population Fund, and the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund requested to be allowed to cooperate with the government.
This project will provide information about Covid-19 and its preventive measures, provision of mental health services, information on infectious diseases, and maternal and child health services, said Bun Eng.
WHO representative to Cambodia Dr Li Ailan said she wanted Cambodia to provide a balance between public health and economic necessity, including assistance to vulnerable citizens.
“I am pleased to see vulnerable people, including migrant workers, are being prioritised in Cambodia.
“Cambodia has achieved many things in the past six months and responded greatly to Covid-19. It did this work with unity and we want to create a new normal situation for Cambodia,” she said.
Centre for Alliance of Labour and Human Rights executive director Moeun Tola said on Wednesday that the workers faced many obstacles returning to Cambodia, including paying bribes to Thai and Cambodian authorities.
They do not have money, they are unemployed, and they have no money to pay the bank. To tackle this issue, some workers illegally crossed the border to work abroad while some went to Phnom Penh to find work.
Tola called for the government to list returning workers and give them IDPoor cards so they can get supporting funds. The budget of $25 million per month, he said, should give priority to the poor and those who returned from Thailand.
“It is a good thing to focus on these three provinces, but there are a lot of people in Kampong Thom and Prey Veng also. There are more than three provinces and this programme should help the whole Kingdom.
“There are two ways to help them. The first is to make IDPoor cards for them. This way, we do not have to think further. The second is to suspend or lower their debts. If they have to pay $200 per month in debts, we should allow them to pay a certain amount, not all they have,” Tola said.
He said he asked migrant workers about debts. Some claimed that they sold properties to pay the bank to prevent confiscation
The National Bank of Cambodia, Tola said, had promised to encourage banks and Microfinance Institutions to favour citizens in debt because of Covid-19, but these measures were not practised in reality.