All 5 children of Mrs. Ann are working in Thailand, undocumented. She stayed in Cambodia with her 70-year old sick husband and 12 grandchildren to take care of.
Mrs. Ann poses for a family picture in front of her house in a Siem Reap village together with her 70-year old husband and 12 grandchildren. After the flood destroyed their rice field last year, the family ran into debts and all her 5 children were forced to migrate across the border to find employment in Thailand. They send their mother little monthly subsistence. “The money is not enough. My children all have debts to pay and with little that is left I cannot feed 12 children. It’s hard, but we have no choice”.
Mrs. Ann’s children work for different construction companies all over Thailand. Migration is not a new thing to them. Before the flood they were already going to Thailand, crossing the border back and forth, undocumented most of the times. The little rice that they harvested from their land was enough to feed the family, but they could not make a living out of it. Especially when the crops decreased by 65% percent due to flooding. They did not have resources to invest in the expensive irrigation system or to diversify crops to sell in the market, not to mention to build their own houses or ensure good education for their children. With little job offers in the area, crossing the border seemed the most reasonable thing to do. This is what many of the villagers in the area did. Like Mrs. Ann, many Cambodians leave the elderly behind with their children, unable to take them along.
Mrs. Ann never heard about safe migration. When we asked her about her dreams, tears filled her eyes. “I would like my family to be together again in Cambodia. But with all the debts which we have accumulated, I don’t know when and if it could happen”, she adds. “I am happy that there is a school in the village and my grandchildren can attend it”. She sees an opportunity for future generations. With proper education and skills her grandchildren could find a better paid job in their country or abroad, and who knows, maybe even revive the family rice field, challenge the floods and droughts, which strike their land regularly.
Mrs. Ann’s children – Sarom, Phekalika, Tola, Veasna and Sopheap*- had to leave their village. “They all crossed the border with their spouses, undocumented”, says their mother, Mrs. Ann. “We tried to arrange passports for them, but we were cheated by a recruitment company, which charged us ฿15,000 [around 450 USD] and disappeared. We could not afford applying for new passports”. Without proper documentation migrants become vulnerable in the country of destination. They face risks of being exploited by their employers with practically no institution to turn to for help and eventually could be charged with fines or deported.
*Names have been changed to protect their identity.