The government maintained insufficient protection efforts. Despite retaining victim identification guidelines developed by the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans, and Youth Rehabilitation (MOSAVY) in 2017, victim identification, referral, and repatriation efforts remained disparate and underdeveloped across law enforcement agencies. Due to improved data collection measures, the government reported victim identification data from all provinces in the country. While conducting arrests during the reporting period, police identified 322 potential victims of “non-sexual trafficking” (66 in 2019) and 95 potential victims of sex trafficking, including 26 children (76 victims in 2019). As with all law enforcement statistics, these figures likely included victims of crimes that did not meet standard definitions of sex trafficking or forced labor. MOSAVY continued to operate a migrant transit center in the border city of Poipet, where transit center officials reportedly continued to screen for and identify trafficking victims among adult and child migrants at the center. The government, however, did not report how many trafficking victims officials identified in the transit center during the reporting period. During the previous reporting period, the National Committee for Counter Trafficking (NCCT) launched an application-based victim identification manual and screening tool for use at the transit center to improve victim identification procedures; however, it did not report if transit center officials used this screening tool during the reporting period. Given the high vulnerability to trafficking among migrant populations and the lack of universal implementation of victim identification standards, many victims likely transited this facility unidentified. 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 (MOI) for the formal identification needed to access protection services. Some anti-trafficking NGOs further reported a lack of cooperation with the authorities, which hindered the operations of key anti-trafficking NGOs.
The government did not have the capacity or resources available to provide adequate protection services, including shelter, to trafficking victims; it therefore continued to rely heavily on donor countries, international organizations, and NGOs to provide or support provision of such services to trafficking victims. The government did not have enough shelter capacity throughout the country dedicated to providing immediate or long-term assistance to trafficking victims, including Cambodian victims who were repatriated, or those vulnerable to trafficking. MOSAVY maintained guidelines outlining minimum standards for residential care of trafficking victims and continued to disseminate them among NGO shelters during the reporting period. The government, however, did not facilitate formal transfer of the custody of child trafficking victims to NGOs, leaving NGOs that accepted child victims into their care vulnerable to court action. Ongoing custody issues reportedly dissuaded some NGO shelters from protecting residents’ freedom of movement, contrary to best practices. 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. During the reporting period, the government established a national policy on migrants’ health, which gave public health facilities the authority to provide free medical services to all migrant workers in Cambodia, including foreign trafficking victims; this policy relieved NGOs of the financial burden of providing medical care to this vulnerable population.
Despite the prominence of male labor trafficking victims, government assistance for this population remained limited. During the reporting period, the government acknowledged this population was underserved and requested help from NGOs to provide services to male victims. The government reportedly provided vocational training and other programs to identify job opportunities for male trafficking victims from the commercial fishing industry, but it did not report how many victims benefited from these programs. However, service provider NGOs noted that an acute lack of reintegration services and cultural stigma surrounding the experience of forced labor at sea catalyzed re-trafficking among fishermen returning home after escaping their abuses. Unlike in the previous reporting period when authorities did not provide complete statistics on the number of victims they assisted or referred, during this reporting period local police referred 371 international and domestic victims of trafficking and those vulnerable to trafficking to provincial social affairs offices. These offices generally referred victims to short- and long-term NGO shelters for care; NGOs reported that in most cases, the victim referral process was quick. Additionally, in 2020 MOSAVY referred to NGO services 220 Cambodian trafficking victims and “other vulnerable migrants” who were repatriated from foreign countries, including China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. Of the 220 returnees, 113 were victims of forced marriage, 54 of forced labor, and three of sex trafficking. MOSAVY reintegrated 104 Cambodian trafficking victims and persons vulnerable to trafficking to their home villages. In comparison in 2019, MOSAVY assisted in the repatriation of 290 Cambodian victims of trafficking and other vulnerable migrants and referred them to NGOs for care.
The government continued to rely on donor organizations to finance the repatriation of Cambodian victims who were exploited abroad. 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. According to an NGO, some victims were reportedly unable to secure assistance from Cambodian consular services overseas due to unattended hotlines and unresponsive staff. The government also maintained labor attachés at embassies in Malaysia, South Korea, 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. Victims identified in countries without Cambodian diplomatic representation had access to even less support. During the reporting period, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MFAIC) facilitated the return of 10,574 Cambodian migrant workers from China, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, a large increase over the prior year due the pandemic. After MOSAVY conducted preliminary interviews of these returnees, it referred all of them to local NGOs for interviews to determine appropriate services: care, rehabilitation, or immediate return to their home villages. However, as in the previous reporting period, authorities did not specify if they implemented appropriate victim identification measures to screen for trafficking among the returnees or what portion of these returnees were trafficking victims. The number of Cambodian returnees who experienced forced labor and sex 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.
There were no legal provisions 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. While awaiting repatriation, the government generally allowed foreign victims temporary residence at NGO shelters. In 2020, MOSAVY repatriated two Vietnamese trafficking victims to Vietnam (nine in 2019). Insufficient victim identification efforts left many potential foreign victims at risk of deportation or charged with immigration violations. However, an NGO reported that during the reporting period, anti-trafficking police and prosecutors willingly worked with social workers and employed child-friendly practices when encountering trafficking victims. Law enforcement often did not keep victims and perpetrators separated during interviews. During the reporting period, MOJ instructed provincial courts to 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; despite the instruction from MOJ, it did not report if courts universally implemented this program. During the reporting period, the government—in cooperation with an NGO—launched a pilot program in three provinces that trained social workers to offer psychological support to victims involved in court cases. Nevertheless, 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. NGOs reported victims preferred out-of-court settlements over court proceedings as the fastest way to obtain monetary compensation. Cambodian law outlined channels for victim restitution. However, restitution 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.