Poipet is a city located in the northwestern area of Cambodia, on the border with Thailand. Thanks to cross-border trade and recent Chinese investments, the city today offers many economic opportunities and in recent years they have opened factories, casinos, bars and specifically many karaoke bars, unfortunately known as places of prostitution.
Many Cambodian families move to Poipet from all over the country, hoping to improve their economic conditions and give their children a better future. Unfortunately, being poorly educated and unskilled, the members of these families and children in particular are among the subjects most at risk of exploitation. If the children often end up in the spiral of trafficking, the parents are instead exploited for menial jobs paid on average 3 dollars a day, a sum obviously not enough to survive.
In this already critical context, the Covid-19 pandemic has further aggravated the situation and the closure of the Cambodia-Thailand border has interrupted the flow of tourists that guaranteed good deals to bars, restaurants, casinos and other local businesses. Many businesses have been forced to close and factories have seen orders drop with the consequence that many workers have been left behind.
On the other hand, this scenario has offered new opportunities to illegal traffickers who still manage to get goods and people across the border, using a bridge away from the main border crossing. Unfortunately, for many people this is the only chance to find work and help their families. In Thailand, however, illegal immigration laws are strict, particularly at this time, and many Cambodians are arrested during or shortly after the attempted trespass.
The mayor of Poipet on May 26 said: “The population of the city has shrunk by 40% since the beginning of 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the closure of many businesses which led to the postponement of much of the production. and the cancellation of many employment contracts. In addition, in recent months, children begging for alms have increased on the streets of the city, as well as thefts, house raids, gambling and illegal crossings to Thailand in search of work. About 45% of families are also struggling to support the costs of daily life which have also increased due to inflation “.
Mani Tese in Poipet has been supporting the Damnok Toek association for several years, which welcomes children who are victims of trafficking and abuse to its center, to rehabilitate them and reintegrate them into their families. Even in this complicated period, the activities continued, obviously adopting the appropriate security measures for staff and beneficiaries that we talked about in this article. But now the Damnok Toek operators have noticed more and more children living on the street and entire families in landfills, and so efforts have increased in favor of these weaker and more vulnerable subjects.
The children of the reception center and the assistance center have access to e-learning to continue with the lessons and the employment office continues to support young people who are looking for a job. Unfortunately, in this period, the office is flooded with calls from those seeking assistance because they still do not have a job and Damnok Toek operators have discovered that many of those who have lost their jobs have returned to their provinces of origin. Others were forced to sell their cell phones or other items to buy basic necessities.
The shelter is not fully accessible, but small groups of children take turns entering to play, study, wash and receive a nutritious meal. This facility is essential for it to remain active during the pandemic as it targets children living on the street or working on the street.
The teachers in our non-formal education (NFE) program and the staff at the shelter are regularly making home visits to students and distributing or collecting homework. At the same time, they are distributing food parcels to the most needy families who have expressed their utmost gratitude for the help received in this time of great difficulty.
Our awareness group in Poipet is also continuing to conduct family visits to inform children and their families about Covid-19 prevention measures. Also in this case, the activity goes hand in hand with a work of food distribution that has as its recipients the children who live on the street (in many cases these are the same children who visit the reception center to wash or to receive a meal) .
Another way of raising awareness of the community on the Covid-19 issue was the dissemination of messages through loudspeakers and paper materials that were distributed using traditional tuk tuk as a means of transport. Our ChildSafe agents – who are vendors, tuk tuk drivers, motodup drivers and other members of the community – have been appropriately trained to explain to the people of Poipet the safety rules to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
According to the Damnok Toek association, if the border between Thailand and Cambodia remains closed, more and more families will find themselves in the situation of having to ask for help to survive, because currently there are very few sources of income. Before the pandemic, many people found jobs as motodup drivers, factory workers, working in casinos or migrating to Thailand where there are opportunities in the fishing, freight or textile industry. But now the options are much more limited and families no longer know how to feed their children.
Here are some photos of the awareness activities carried out by Damnok Toek.
Find out more about the Children Safe in Cambodia project and make a donation if you want to support the Damnok Toek shelter: https://www.manitese.it/en/project/children-safe-in-cambodia