The Cambodian government should urgently address the economic and social impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, which disproportionately harm Cambodia’s low-income population, Human Rights Watch said today. Recent severe lockdowns especially affected impoverished or unemployed people.
On May 11, 2021, the government introduced an “emergency social assistance program” to provide one-time cash transfers to low-income households, those affected by Covid-19 lockdowns, and families with members who died of or were infected with the coronavirus. The first cash transfers were scheduled for early June. While urgent social assistance is needed, the program should be expanded to safeguard the rights to an adequate standard of living, health, and social security. Identifying at-risk households and providing cash transfers should be transparent and closely coordinated with the United Nations Country Team in Cambodia and development partners, Human Rights Watch said.
“Millions of Cambodians are going hungry and fear losing their homes during the pandemic because there is no government social protection system,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Sporadic one-off cash transfers won’t address basic needs. The Cambodian government should provide timely social protection to everyone in need under a social protection system that protects rights and contributes to an equitable recovery.”
Since the Covid-19 pandemic began in 2020, hundreds of thousands of low-wage workers in the garment, entertainment, and tourism sectors have been laid-off or suspended. Few have sufficient savings or have received adequate government subsidies to sustain them.
In late May, Human Rights Watch interviewed five low-wage workers in the entertainment sector in Phnom Penh whose work was suspended on March 1 and who have received 40 percent of their salaries from their employer since then. Starting in April, all were locked down for up to 35 days in one of the so-called “red zones” in Phnom Penh, areas with a total of at least 300,000 people that were considered high risk for Covid-19 transmission. Residents were prohibited from leaving their homes, even to purchase food.
The government’s food aid in red zones was haphazard and selective, and relief packages were inadequate and insufficient to address the food emergency, as was reported by media