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, victim identification, referral, and repatriation efforts remained disparate and underdeveloped across law enforcement agencies. Authorities did not provide complete statistics on the number of victims they assisted or referred. The government continued implementing a regulation barring NGOs from representing individuals seeking formal recognition as trafficking victims. Under this 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 70,225 migrants deported from Thailand in 2017 (70,5000 in 2017). However, it did not report identifying any victims through this center; given the high vulnerability to 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. MOSAVY reportedly maintained guidelines outlining minimum standards for residential care of trafficking victims and disseminated them among NGO shelters during the reporting period. 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. Ongoing custody issues reportedly dissuaded some NGO shelters from protecting residents’ freedom of movement, contrary to best practices. Although some anti-trafficking NGOs enjoyed cooperation with the authorities, including through receipt of in-kind support, increasing restrictions on civil society hindered the operations of key anti-trafficking NGOs during the reporting period. 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. One study conducted by an international organization during the previous reporting period found only 21 percent of migrant workers sought assistance for labor abuses experienced abroad, including forced labor. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MFAIC), which bore the primary responsibility of aiding Cambodian trafficking victims, reported repatriating and providing limited services to 8,489 Cambodians from six countries, including 330 women from Thailand, China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and Somalia. However, unlike the previous reporting period, authorities did not specify what portion of these returnees were trafficking victims (986 from 11 nine countries in 2017). An international organization assisted in the majority of these repatriations. Observers believed these figures represented only a small fraction of the number of Cambodians subjected to trafficking abroad, particularly in the fishing industry. 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 NGOs, some returned victims had been unable to secure assistance from Cambodian consular services in China, Korea, and Thailand 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. Cambodia also maintained labor attachés at embassies in Korea, Malaysia, and Thailand—the countries with the highest number of Cambodian migrant workers—but did not provide data on their involvement in identifying or assisting labor trafficking victims.
The number of Cambodian returnees subjected to trafficking abroad was likely much higher than reported due to an increasing tendency among these groups to return via informal migration channels, and due to insufficient victim identification procedures. MOSAVY reported assisting in the repatriation of 222 Cambodians identified by foreign governments and NGOs in 2018, including 61 from Malaysia, 20 from Thailand, 89 from China, 21 from Somalia, 29 from Vietnam, and two from Saudi Arabia (243 total in 2017). Of these, 109 were victims of forced labor. According to MOSAVY, 96 of the individuals had been involved in forced or fraudulent marriages, and authorities did not report whether these cases featured corollary sex trafficking or forced labor indicators. The remainder were sex trafficking victims. MOSAVY reported referring all 222 individuals to NGOs (unreported in 2017; 62 referred by MOSAVY in 2016). MOSAVY also reported providing reintegration services to 303 Cambodian trafficking victims and referring an additional 848 individuals to NGOs for rehabilitation services; some of these cases may have been identified in a previous year, and they likely included victims of other forms of abuse. Local police referred 235 sex and labor trafficking victims to provincial social service providers and NGOs for further protections (179 in 2017 and 326 in 2016). One NGO provided assistance to 180 Cambodians who had experienced sex trafficking, forced labor or conditions indicative thereof in the fishing industry, and abuses that may have amounted to trafficking in relation to forced or fraudulent marriage.
There was no legal provision to offer work permits, temporary residency, or other immigration status to foreign victims wishing to remain in Cambodia to participate in civil or criminal proceedings. 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 would face hardship or retribution upon return to their countries of origin. MOSAVY did not repatriate any foreign trafficking victims during the reporting period (two Vietnamese victims repatriated in early 2018, three in 2017, and 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 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 allowing for video-conferencing technology as an alternative to direct cross-examination of victims in front of the accused. 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. Observers noted Cambodia lacked a standard operating procedure for determining how to calculate restitution or compensation. Victims rarely received the amount promised, and many victims’ families settled out of court with traffickers or accepted bribes to drop the relevant charges.