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“Undocumented, unregistered and invisible”: an exploratory study of the reasons for and effects of migrating to Thailand of Cambodian young people

Isaac Alex Sampson (Migration and Development Studies, SOAS, London, UK)
Glenn Michael Miles (Research, OCMS, Oxford, UK) (Freedom Resource International, Chiang Mia, Thailand)
Eliza Piano (Global Development, School of Politics and International Studies, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK)

International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy

ISSN: 0144-333X

Article publication date: 12 November 2020

Issue publication date: 23 June 2021




This paper is designed to provide primary research which illuminates both the motivations for Cambodian migration as well as the risks entailed in undertaking migration.


This paper gathered its information through a structured interview with 49 respondents aged between 17–29 years of mixed gender. The questionnaire comprised 18 questions in addition to a demographics section. Findings were subsequently analysed in order to extract commonalities amongst the experiences and perceptions of migrants.


The present research study found that the migration of Cambodians to Thailand is largely forced in the sense that there is a lack of economic opportunities within Cambodia. Of the respondents, 88% indicated that their preference would be to remain in Cambodia. What is more, the authors found that the migration is fraught with insecurity and risk, with a range of security issues faced by respondents including not being paid, being abused and being overworked.

Research limitations/implications

This response group is not a representative sample of Cambodians who work in Thailand. The study’s respondents in Cambodia were at a deportation centre, where migrants caught by Thai authorities worked without documentation, which had a clear impact upon migration experience. Additionally, the study’s respondents in Pattaya, Thailand, were accessed via an associate of a colleague, so this too is not a representative sample of Cambodians working in Thailand.

Practical implications

This can have practical use for a variety of stakeholders by providing quantitative information as well as analysis into the migration of Cambodians to Thailand. Within the Recommendations section, it is illustrated how a temporary migrant worker programme can be beneficial to the host and receiving countries and individual migrants. Individual migrants can benefit from being employed by legitimate, accountable employers and hence result in higher provision of human rights for this demographic.

Social implications

There is a highly entrenched culture of migration within Cambodia's bordering provinces. Through changes to the personal health, well-being and prosperity of migrants in Thailand because of reduced exploitation and increased pay. Host communities in Cambodia are also likely to receive higher levels of remittances, which can stimulate development in Cambodian communities.


Deepened understanding of the motivations for migration and highlighted lack of desire amongst Cambodians to migrate continue to demonstrate the persistent need for effective and substantial development policies within Cambodia. The proposal of a temporary migrant worker scheme is in its short-term nature and reflects the necessity of this demographic to migrate irrespective of whether they can receive official working papers.



Thanks to Kone-Kmeng, a Cambodian NGO who provided the research internship and facilitated this research. Special thanks to Sophany Pang, the director of Kone-Kmeng, and to Sokleap Tray who undertook the interviews and translated them from Khmer to English. Thanks to the 49 respondents who experienced many challenges in their migration experience.Funding: This project was self-funded.


Sampson, I.A., Miles, G.M. and Piano, E. (2021), "“Undocumented, unregistered and invisible”: an exploratory study of the reasons for and effects of migrating to Thailand of Cambodian young people", International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Vol. 41 No. 7/8, pp. 862-874.



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