Cambodia plans to send up to 5,000 of workers to Kuwait. The risks of serious abuses is making the plan controversial. Sineat Yon and I looked into it for UCANews.

Ary Ramsan wipes away tears as she recalls her time working as a housemaid in Saudi Arabia.Three years ago, the 24-year-old Cham Muslim, a minority that has lived in Cambodia for generations, migrated to the Middle East, where she was exploited from her first day at work.

“They sent me to a family with 11 children. I worked for 15 to 16 hours per day, and I wasn’t paid anything,” she told ucanews.com.

When she decided to complain, she was sent to another family. Again she had to work from early in the morning until late at night. Again she didn’t receive her salary. She couldn’t handle it anymore.

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Cambodians in Battambang province often have no other option than to migrate to neighboring Thailand to find a job. The impact is huge, with families being torn apart. My story for UCANews.

Yu Ya with her son and mother. Photo: Ate Hoekstra

Yu Ya doesn’t really want to go Thailand. She would much rather stay at home to look after her 1-year-old son. But the Cambodian woman feels like there’s no other option.

“There’s no job for me here. We only have a rice field and a small shop to sell rice soup for breakfast. That’s not enough to make a living,” she says in Bavel, a rural district in Battambang Province.

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During the years that the Rohingya Muslims were repressed in Myanmar many of them weren’t allowed to celebrate Ramadan. Now that they live in refugee camps across the border they. It’s the rare good news for this persecuted minority. Here’s my story for UCANews.

Refugee Hamid Hossen at a mosque in the refugee camp. Photo: Ate Hoekstra

Hamid Hossen can barely recall the last time he celebrated Ramadan properly in Myanmar. It was about six years ago before ethnic violence rocked Rakhine State in the west of the country.

“After that it became really difficult. I often had no other option than to pray at home,” said the 52-year-old Rohingya Muslim, who worked as a farmer before fleeing the country along with hundreds of thousands of his compatriots.

Now he is a refugee in Cox’s Bazar, a border district in Bangladesh. Here he and other Rohingya who left Myanmar to escape what the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has described as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” can celebrate the holy month of Ramadan without any restrictions.

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Despite some progress, many migrant workers continue to be abused and exploited in Thailand’s fishing industry. I looked into it for UCANews.

Drying fish in Cambodia. Photo: Ate Hoekstra

It was in the late evening of Sept. 27 last year when Zeha Pourng set out to sea. The Cambodian migrant worker was all by himself and was given the task to attract fish with a small light boat to a fishing vessel of a Thai fishing company that cannot be named for legal reasons. Zeha had done the work before, but this evening he got caught up in a storm in the Gulf of Thailand.

What exactly happened to 28-year-old Zeha is still a mystery. Eight days after that stormy night, his boat was found near the island of Koh Samet. The fisherman’s body was never found.

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The landlocked country of Laos is facing environmental threats of destructive hydropower dams and illegal logging. My story for UCANews.

Fishing in the Mekong in Laos. Photo: Chrissusieking / Flickr

Attapeu, a province in the southeast of Laos, is not a place that draws much attention. But a recent illegal logging scheme, in which a convoy of 27 trucks tried to cross into Vietnam, shone a light on it.

With illegal logging being a major problem in the country for years, the scheme itself was far from unexpected. But the consequences were. First it resulted in the removal of Nam Viyaketh as the governor of Attapeu. Then in late November the new governor assured the public that the people involved will be prosecuted, a possible game-changer in a country where illegal logging often goes unpunished.

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Pope Francis appointed Laos’ very first cardinal in the country’s history. I had the chance to meet cardinal Ling for an interview for UCANews.

Cardinal Ling in Vientiane, Laos. Photo: UCANews

In the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Vientiane a large banner is hard to miss.

The “17 Martyrs of Laos” banner hangs from the ceiling of Vientiane’s only Catholic church and commemorates a group of Catholics, including several priests, who died between 1954 and 1970 in a crackdown on the religious by the communist government.

Each year, on Dec. 16, Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun, 73, makes sure that the martyrs are not forgotten. “We remember them with a ceremony, because they were a witness to the faith,” Ling said inside the cathedral.

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Environmental issues threaten sustainability of Tonle Sap Lake which a million Cambodians depend on for their livelihoods. My story for UCANews.

The great Tonlé Sap Lake is under threat. Photo: Ate Hoekstra

It’s peacefully quiet on the shores of Sang Vor, a small village in Cambodia’s Kandal province. A soft breeze blows over the Tonle Sap Lake; the sunlight is harsh.

Nom Khim, a local fisherman, looks out over the lake and points towards a small boat anchored to the shore. It’s that kind of boat he uses every day to go out fishing, the 40-year-old Cambodian says. “The best time to go fishing is during the Water Festival, in November. During that time, I go out day and night. It is then when you catch the most fish.”

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