The government decreased protection efforts. Despite maintaining victim identification guidelines developed by the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans, and Youth Rehabilitation (MOSAVY) in early 2017, disparate victim identification, referral, and repatriation efforts remained underdeveloped and overlapping across government and law enforcement agencies. Authorities did not provide complete statistics on the number of victims they assisted or referred. During the reporting period, the government imposed a new regulation barring NGOs from representing individuals seeking formal recognition as trafficking victims. Under this new arrangement—which NGOs claimed severely intimidated victims and their families—victims were required to approach the Ministry of Interior for the formal identification needed to access protection services.
With assistance from an international organization, the government continued to operate two transit centers in the border city of Poipet, where it screened for trafficking victims among the approximately 70,500 migrants deported from Thailand in 2017 (55,000 in 2016). However, it did not report identifying any victims through this center; given the extent of trafficking among this population and the lack of universal implementation of victim identification standards, many victims likely transited the center unidentified. The government operated a temporary shelter in Phnom Penh for female victims of trafficking and other crimes, and it referred trafficking victims to donor-funded NGO shelters—most of which cared for victims of several forms of abuse—to receive further assistance. The government continued to rely heavily on NGOs to protect trafficking victims; however, it did not facilitate formal transfer of custody for child victims, leaving organizations that accepted child victims vulnerable to court action. Provisions allowing for financial settlements in lieu of harsher sentencing further discouraged some families from consenting to temporary guardianship at shelters; absent family consent, government officials at times returned children to high-risk environments, leaving them vulnerable to re-victimization. Despite the prominence of male labor trafficking victims, assistance for this population remained limited.
Cambodian diplomatic missions overseas continued to lack adequate funding and capacity to provide basic assistance or repatriate victims, despite government action in prior years to train diplomats on migrant worker protections. Victims identified in countries without Cambodian diplomatic representation had access to even less support. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MFAIC), which bore the primary responsibility of aiding Cambodian trafficking victims, reported repatriating 986 Cambodian trafficking victims from nine countries (815 from 11 countries in 2016); this included 382 victims from Malaysia, 288 from Thailand, 171 from Vietnam, 53 from China, 49 from Laos, 23 from Indonesia, 12 from Japan, five from Singapore, and three from Burma. An international organization assisted in the majority of these repatriations. The government reportedly maintained a victim reintegration center specifically for Cambodian and foreign survivors of a widely publicized maritime forced labor case in Indonesian waters in 2015; through this center, authorities held an annual regional victims’ workshop and provided psycho-social services, but it was unclear if this work relied on assistance from international donors. The MFA did not promulgate or implement standard operating procedures for the identification and referral of Cambodian victims abroad, leaving many Cambodians without the assistance necessary to repatriate legally and safely. According to local service provision NGOs, some returned victims had been unable to secure assistance from Cambodian consular services in Thailand and Korea due to unattended hotlines and unresponsive staff; others confined in forced labor conditions abroad, including in Malaysia, were unable to convince Cambodian consular staff they were in need of assistance.
MOSAVY reported assisting in the repatriation of 243 Cambodians in 2017, including 114 from Malaysia, 45 from Thailand, 21 from Indonesia, 21 from China, 18 from Somalia, 16 from Vietnam, six from Japan, and one each from Saudi Arabia and Singapore (195 total in 2016). Local police referred 179 sex and labor trafficking victims to provincial social service providers and NGOs for further protections (326 in 2016); MOSAVY did not report assisting in this process (62 referred by MOSAVY in 2016). One NGO recorded receiving and assisting 395 Cambodian trafficking victims from nine countries; it was unclear if this figure was captured in the statistics provided by the MFAIC, or to what extent the MFAIC data included cases received by MOSAVY. The number of Cambodian returnees who were subjected to trafficking abroad was likely much higher than reported due to an increasing tendency among these groups to return via informal migration channels.
The government required the repatriation of foreign victims, except in rare cases, and did not provide legal alternatives to their removal regardless of whether they may face hardship or retribution upon return to their countries of origin. MOSAVY repatriated three trafficking victims to Vietnam after they received care in NGO-run shelters (13 in 2016). Insufficient victim identification efforts left many potential victims at risk of law enforcement action, including punitive deportation without prior screening. Law enforcement often did not keep victims and perpetrators separated during interviews. NGOs noted police made some progress in implementing child-friendly practices during the reporting period, and government social workers reported positive cooperation with the AHTJP, including in timely victim intake and referral procedures. However, provincial courts did not universally implement a child-friendly judicial program initiated in 2016 barring direct cross-examination of victims in front of the accused and relying instead on video-conferencing technology. Cambodia’s weak and corrupt legal system and the lack of adequate victim and witness protection, exacerbated by a lengthy trial process and fear of retaliation by traffickers, hindered victims’ willingness to cooperate in many cases. Victims were theoretically eligible for restitution, although it was extremely difficult to obtain due to a legal requirement delaying payment until after the completion of the trafficker’s jail term; convicted traffickers’ frequent abscondment further complicated this arrangement. NGOs noted victims rarely received the amount promised, and many victims’ families settled out of court with traffickers or accepted bribes to drop the relevant charges.