Cambodian migrant workers return from Jordan3 min read

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A group of migrant workers arrive at Phnom Penh International Airport on July 31 after they were stranded in Jordan for more than three months without work. Central
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Nearly 30 Cambodian migrant workers returned to Cambodia from Jordan on July 31 after they were stranded without employment or income in the country for more than three months. 

Khun Tharo, program manager at labor rights group Central, said the 28 workers landed at Phnom Penh International Airport on chartered flight after their employment contracts at two garment factories in Al-Karak were terminated on March 17.

“On the morning of July 31, 2020, 28 Cambodian migrant workers and one child returned from Jordan to Cambodia at around 9am on a special flight that was organized by the Cambodian Embassy in Egypt” and paid for by the factories’ owners, Tharo said.

When the factories suddenly ended the workers’ contracts, the owners did not originally provide airfare or other contractually obligated benefits owed to the 28 employees, according to Tharo.

Central had previously issued a statement on July 1 calling on the Cambodian government to immediately intervene to facilitate the return of the workers. On July 7, representatives of the two factories met with officials from the Cambodian Embassy in Egypt and worker representatives, promising to cover the cost of flights home for the 28 workers.

Both Vega Textile and Camel Textile are owned by a parent company based in Taiwan, which also operates two factories in Cambodia: Optimum Fashion Manufacturing Co., Ltd in Kampong Speu province and U.I.C Apparel Manufacturing Co., Ltd in Phnom Penh’s Pur Senchey district, according to a statement from Central.

Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said July 31 that the embassy in Egypt had cooperated with the Jordanian government and the factory owners to urge them to honor their contracts with the workers.

He noted that after negotiations throughout July, the owners had agreed to buy plane tickets and pay benefits.

“It means that each worker received an airline ticket and $3,000 of other benefits,” Kuong said. 

He confirmed on July 30 via Telegram messaging app that the workers would depart Jordan to travel to Phnom Penh via Myanmar on flight 8M1105.

The 28 were among 83 Cambodians employed at Vega Textile and Camel Textile, he added. 

According to Central, more than 300 Cambodian garment workers had gone to Jordan around seven years ago through a partnership with a local factory called Lotus, but most had returned home when that factory had closed.

Moeun Tola, executive director of Central, said that his organization was grateful that the Cambodian Embassy in Egypt was able to help the migrant workers.

“Even though Cambodia does not have an Embassy in Jordan, we appreciate that the Cambodian ambassador to Egypt made efforts to coordinate to repatriate the more than 20 migrant workers,” he said.

Now that they have arrived in Cambodia, the 28 will undergo Covid-19 testing and a standard two-week quarantine, according to an airport official.

Sao Wathana, director of Phnom Penh International Airport, said that all Cambodians arriving back in the country will have Covid-19 testing. The repatriated migrants will then be sent for quarantine at Phnom Penh Thmey Secondary School or Chumpouvan High School.

Tola said he was concerned that the designated quarantine center at the school was not suitable, after a member of Central’s team had reported that one repatriated migrant worker who has a baby with her does not have a fan in her room. 

“I request that the government considers whether the quarantine center has enough resources to house women and children as well as enough food and sleeping places,” Tola said, adding that Central would continue to monitor developments at the center. 

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