Migration and Families Left Behind in Cambodia

Phnom Penh – In villages across rural Cambodia, where an estimated million adults have migrated to neighbouring Thailand, and as many as four million have migrated inside Cambodia to find work, grandparents usually stay behind to bring up their grandchildren.

The social cost to families “left behind” by migrant workers on the global stage is clearly considerable, but up to now has attracted very little research, according to IOM Global Migration Health and Epidemiology Coordinator Dr. Kol Wickramage.

“Labour migration has become a crucial engine for economic development for many countries worldwide. But while remittances sent home by migrant workers garner most attention in the ‘migration for development’ discourse, relatively little is known about the social and health impacts, for instance, on the health status of the children,” he said.

“We don’t know how separation from parents may affect children’s nutritional, behavioral and psychological development. Or whether internal or cross border migration is linked to the increased placement of children in residential care. Or how it may be changing the roles for primary care givers in the community,” he added.

The Cambodian government has now asked IOM, the UN Migration Agency, to implement a one-year research project to examine some of these issues in rural Cambodia.

The initiative was launched this week. Funded by the IOM Development Fund, the New Venture Fund and PLAN International, it will also be supported by the Louvain Corporation and the University of Hong Kong.

“The aim is to provide the government with an evidence base to inform policy interventions related to vulnerabilities and strengths related to migration and those left behind. It will also generate key data to inform child protection actors with an evidence base to trial and inform culturally appropriate interventions in the future,” said IOM programme manager Troy Dooley.

“We can see in Cambodia the positive impact of migration for the country via remittances and skills development. But to ensure any emerging strengths and vulnerabilities related to dynamic shifts in migration trends in Cambodia are well managed or addressed, we first need to collect the evidence to inform policy,” he added.

For more information please contact Troy Dooley at IOM Cambodia, Tel. +85512367498, Email: Or Dr. Kolitha Wickramage at the IOM Global Administrative Centre in Manila, Tel. +6391752 45474, Email: