Cambodia: An Update in Brief

December 12th, 2008

It’s been a lot of networking. Waiting. Informal meetings that are often conducted in the evening over drinks. I’ve been both very satisfied and incredibly frustrated with the work which has, so far, not manifested itself in many photographs. My attempts have been more focused; there are no lack of stories here but with limited time I’m choosing to leave those stories for others. Unless I can get a paid assignment for later. However, when I’m doing deep background interviews and not making pictures I tend to feel like I’m sitting around with my thumb up my ass.

I spent the better part of last week in Koh Khong with the Cambodian NGO’s LSCW and HCC trying to do three things: watch the process of deportees being kicked out of Thailand, photograph the undocumented migrant route into Thailand, and look at the only government-run drug treatment center in all of Cambodia.

I thought the latter important to the story because Cambodian men exploited in the Thai fishing industry are known to come back to Cambodia addicted to drugs. However, this center seemed more focused on local drug issues. In a bit of a conundrum, exploited laborers may return to Koh Khong where a pre-existing drug habit may blossom. Or they may pick one up as a means of self medication. At that point does one say they are a local drug user or someone who was exploited and as a result became an addict? Either way, this program is rather ad hoc, underfunded, and the military police (who run the show at the bequest of the governor) are doing their best to cure the addicts cold turkey–with the help of hard work.

As for the other two parts to the story: border crossing was proclaimed impossible however the night before I left I found one person, a past migrant, who I feel I can trust and is willing to take me to the border–next time I visit Koh Khong. And as for the deportees? The Thai’s told me there are no undocumented Cambodians in Thailand. The Cambodians tell me the Thai refuse to inform them when they are about to dump a truckload of deportees at the border. So I think that means I have to sit at the border and wait. Maybe a bit longer than I waited this last time which, unsurprisingly, almost required I get a letter from the provincial governor to do this. (sigh).

I’ve been focusing on the government side of the story I’m doing and have had amazing help from Tina Wesslund with the National Task Force on Human Trafficking. She’s assigned to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs by the Asia Foundation; they in turn are implementing the funding USAID gave to build the task force.

Tina helped me make sense of the morass of government agencies and NGO partners; she has also helped me to arrange interviews with three secretaries of state who are instrumental in the task force. Just this morning I interviewed Secretary of State Chou Bun Eng with the Ministry of Interior. That probably doesn’t mean much to you, but she’s an instrumental part of the anti trafficking task force and works just down the hall from the Deputy Prime Minister Sar Keng.

I’m waiting on a few other things, some of which I cant mention quite yet. We’ll see. It’s a lot of waiting. I just hope I can get what I need this trip so I can make a nice package out of it, wrap it up, and call it quits for Cambodia. There are other stories with their own unique histories; Cambodia is just one of many. And this country is a long way from my Lu.

Somehow, I doubt I’ll get my wish.

Pix to come. I’m trying out a new system of uploading that’s a bit bandwidth intensive…and the internet here isn’t quite as fast as back home. In the meanwhile, the Canon G-10 my family gave as a present has proven quite nice for little movies. I’ve posted them in subsequent blogs.

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