04 January 2022
Life After Thailand: Stories from migrant women who returned to Cambodia due to the COVID-19 pandemic
Phally [Name has been changed to protect the identity], 41 years old, used to work in Thailand on a construction site before the COVID-19 pandemic forced her to return to her home village in the Siem Reap province in the northwest of Cambodia. Phally's initial days back in Cambodia were filled with self-doubt and worry, as she recounts: "I didn't know how I would be able to make a living, which was making me feel miserable and depressed." More than 265,000 migrants (including more than 116,000 migrant women) returned to Cambodia from Thailand since March 2020 due to the impact of the pandemic. Together with UNFPA, UNICEF and WHO, IOM implemented a joint programme funded by the United Nations Multi-Partner Trust Fund (UN MPTF), which provided reintegration opportunities for migrant women through supporting income-generating activities. The programme was implemented between June and December 2020 in the three provinces in Cambodia, with the highest numbers of returned migrants from Thailand. Thanks to the programme's support, Phally was able to start her own business of selling soybeans and chicken, which she now jointly runs with her daughter earning her a daily income of 40,000 Riel (10 USD). "Making soybean juice was a good idea for my own business as this is a trendy drink in my community." In addition, the soybean business provides valuable waste that can be used to feed the chickens, making Phally's business more sustainable. Phally also makes handmade brooms she sells at a local market to supplement her income. In another village in the Siem Reap province, Sreymom [Name has been changed to protect the identity], 32 years old, described how she and her husband struggled to find work as labour contractors in Thailand once the pandemic-related restrictions started affecting businesses. Upon careful consideration, they decided to return to Cambodia to attend to their young children they had left behind and support Sreymom's elderly parents. “We were away from home for three years, so it was a difficult decision to make, especially as I didn't know how to support my family in Cambodia”, she explained. Once back in Kok Chen village, Sreymom's received support from the UN MPTF programme to start her own business of raising chickens and growing vegetables, putting to good use the plot of land owned by the family. “I was so glad when I got selected to participate in the reintegration program, as I wanted to use the grant to start my small business directly in my house and be able to support my family with an extra income. I plan to stay in Cambodia and focus on my children and their education.” She recounts with pride that she initially had seven hens, and after several months of managing her business, she now owns almost 100 chickens. Her vegetable growing business has also expanded from cultivating cauliflower, morning glory, spinach, and herbs to adding more vegetables such as cucumber and okra. Sreymom looks into the future with optimism: "I am content I can support my parents and my twin sons who are in primary education, without having to migrate abroad."