Chan, his wife and 15 villagers believed a broker who promised them a job across the border, in Thailand. They were sold for 60 USD each to work in a factory for 2 USD /day. A few years later, Chan had to save his daughter from Thailand.
Mr. Chan Khon, Social Ambassador
Khon Chan lives in a village in Oddar Meanchey province, where the emigration rate is one of the highest in Cambodia. Chan’s story of migration started almost thirty years ago. Back in 1998, he was struggling to support his family with his salary as a construction worker. “There was simply not enough food at home for all of us and I was constantly worrying. I had to do something”, Chan recalled. He thus decided to follow a group of 15 villagers, hoping to find a job in Poipet, right at the border with Thailand. “I heard there were better job opportunities there and that the Thai baht was worth much more than our Cambodian riel!”
The group of villagers asked a broker who had experience as a migrant worker in Thailand to facilitate their trip to the border town, which he agreed on doing. Soon the group found themselves climbing on a truck and driving towards the border. After an hour of driving, the vehicle arrived at Popiet, but to the surprise of its passengers it did not stop there. Instead, the broker continued driving for another 200 km, eventually reaching Chonburi province. Once there, the man sold the 15 Cambodians to a Thai employer for 60 USD per person and vanished.
Chan was forced to work in a factory in harsh conditions for only 2 USD per day or 100 baths during the first five months. During this period, the employer deducted from Chan’s salary the money used to pay the broker while charging him with living costs, such as food, water and accommodation. Chan became thus indebted to the employer. “I was working non-stop and was not given enough time to sleep. I didn’t know at the time that I was victim of exploitation”, he recalls. Nevertheless, Chan tried to save as much money as he could to be reunited with his family. He worked for nine months until he paid back his debt to his employer and was set free to return back home.
Back home, Chan worked in the fields behind his house for three years, but the living conditions of his family deteriorated. “Even by working hard, I was not able to produce enough food for my family so in 2001 I decided to go back to Thailand, this time with my wife.” The couple asked their neighbour, who happened to be a broker, to arrange a job for them for 70 USD each. Without any documents, Mr. Chan crossed the border for a second time to work in a sackcloth factory for 5 USDa day. Unfortunately, during an inspection, Chan, his wife and other undocumented migrants were arrested and sent to a detention centre where they stayed for three weeks before being deported back to Cambodia.
Life went on but the family struggled to escape poverty. His painful experience as a migrant worker did not stop Chan from allowing his daughter to try her luck in 2007, again with the intermediary of a broker.
A few days later, Chan received a call from her begging him to come and find her. “She called me crying saying that the broker had taken all her money and left her all alone in Thailand. I didn’t think twice, I had to save her, so I crossed the border again to bring her back home.” On their way back to Cambodia, both of them were arrested by the Thai authority for not having any documents and sent to an immigration centre. However, this time, thanks to the Cambodian Embassy, they were set free to return home after ten days. Since then, the family decided never to be victims again.