It was a big gamble for Khun Savy, travelling hundreds of kilometres and spending thousands of Thai baht for broker fees and bribes he said he paid to be smuggled into Thailand.
At the O’Smach International Border Checkpoint in Oddar Meanchey province, the 29-year-old was one of 12 people waiting anxiously for a bus he said would take him safely past police to the promise of a better income across the border.
“I decided to pay money to the broker because he has guaranteed me that he would provide me a job as a construction worker in Thailand, and I will also be safe travelling into Thailand,” he said, adding the deal cost him 3,000 baht (US$98).
“I paid the money to the police because I did not want them to detain me for illegal entry into Thailand.”
The farmer from Prey Veng province was confident a 10 baht one-day border pass and another “unofficial” 100 baht fee he paid to police would see him safely across the border.
Motorbike taxi drivers who swarmed around the checkpoint said Khun Savy is one of thousands of job-seekers who bribe their way through the checkpoint every year.
One of those motorbike drivers, Sao Kheng, was familiar with the 100 baht bribe Khun Savy says he paid for his dubious job prospect in Thailand, but alleged police extort even more from those who escape trafficking once they get there.
“Police and brokers at O’Smach Border checkpoint are corrupt. They are accomplices in smuggling people from Cambodia into Thailand. They allow people to illegally enter for work in Thailand, despite that they clearly know it is risky for them,” he said.
While brokers can charge anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 baht to traffic the migrant workers, police will charge between 200 and 1,000 baht for Cambodians escaping exploitation in Thailand to be repatriated.
Another motorbike driver, Keo Than, said police pocketed bribes from at least 100 trafficked workers every day. “People decide to go into Thailand for work via O’Smach checkpoint because it is a border checkpoint where police are corrupt and take bribes”.
These allegations were denied by O’Smach International Border Checkpoint deputy chief Ngoy Chieng, who said no one is trafficked into Thailand at the crossing.
“The Immigration Police have also never taken any money from workers who returned from Thailand via the O’Smach checkpoint.
“O’Smach International Border Checkpoint is a poor checkpoint, but there is no human trafficking in this area. It is a safe border checkpoint,” he said.
More than 300 Cambodians caught illegally working by Thai police have been repatriated through O’Smach this year already, he added.
However, an officer who declined to be named conceded there was a significant problem with trafficking at the checkpoint.
“I recognise that there are many Cambodian people trafficked via O’Smach checkpoint into Thailand every day,” he said.
“But I did not know why because I am only a low level police officer here. And this issue is related with the chief and deputy chief of immigration police here only.”
Chan Saveth, senior investigating officer at the rights group Adhoc, said his organisation had found hundreds of Cambodians illegally entered Thailand via border checkpoints every day.