Following an exodus of more than 200,000 Cambodian workers from Thailand in the past two weeks, the junta has urged Cambodia to expedite planned border offices that will facilitate legal labour migration.
Responding to that request, Cambodia announced yesterday that the first “one-stop service office” would open at Banteay Meanchey’s Poipet International Checkpoint in July.
The office will assist migrant workers with the large amount of paperwork required by both countries, ideally streamlining the process and enticing workers to go abroad solely through legal channels.
“At first it will be just a trial.… Our purpose will be to help illegal migrant workers become legal workers,” Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training director-general Seng Sakada said at a labour migration workshop in the capital yesterday.
He added that if the Poipet office is successful, additional offices will open in Koh Kong and Pailin.
“The important thing is not to prevent migration but to create a national policy and find appropriate measures to protect labourers,” Sakada said.
Countless Cambodians travel to Thailand every year for seasonal work, usually without the proper legal documents. An estimated 400,000 to 500,000 Cambodians of both legal and undocumented status contribute to Thailand’s unskilled workforce.
The Thai junta staunchly insists that despite trainloads and truckloads of Cambodian workers still fleeing across the border, it has no policy to crack down on its foreign workforce and has since implored workers to return as businesses complain of labour shortages.
Economists and rights monitors yesterday gave a tentative welcome to the border office initiative as an effective solution to the influx of returned, and now unemployed, workers.
“The formal way for workers to work in Thailand should be as cheap and fast as possible,” said Chan Sophal, president of the Cambodian Economic Association, going as far as to suggest that passports should be offered free of charge.
But others still offered a word of caution.
“We would be really concerned about corruption that’s already a problem among immigration and customs officials on both sides,” said Moeun Tola, labour coordinator at the Community Legal Education Center.