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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Border chaos claims 2 more

Cambodian migrant workers crowd into a truck at the border town of Poipet in Banteay Meanchey
Cambodian migrant workers crowd into a truck at the border town of Poipet in Banteay Meanchey as they flood across the Thai-Cambodia border to escape junta-controlled Thailand. Griff Tapper

Border chaos claims 2 more

A second deadly car accident in as many days has claimed the lives of more Cambodian migrant workers fleeing Thailand in the wake of last month’s military takeover.

At least two undocumented Cambodian workers were killed while driving through Thailand’s Chonburi province to get to the border on Sunday morning, with 18 others sustaining injuries, according to Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Kuong said the cause of the accident is still unknown, but that the injured workers were taken to hospitals in Thailand.

“Now, we are arranging to send the bodies back home,” he said.

Sunday’s crash occurred less than 12 hours after a blown-out tyre caused a truck in Thailand’s Chachoengsao province to overturn, killing the driver and six undocumented Cambodian labourers, and leaving 13 others seriously injured.

Officials said the broker-hired truck had been on its way to the Poipet international checkpoint in Banteay Meanchey province, where streams of returning workers have overwhelmed the border town.

Fuelled by rapidly circulating stories about military raids, detentions and shootings, more than 148,000 workers, mostly undocumented, have fled Thailand in a fear-ridden mass exodus this month.

The number of workers deposited by the truckload has escalated every day until an unprecedented peak on Saturday, when the influx of returning Cambodians reached nearly 44,000. The numbers began to dip Sunday, with just shy of 300 trucks and buses from Thailand bringing nearly 27,000 men, women and children back to Cambodia. Yesterday, even fewer workers made their way across, with the provincial governor’s count at 7,000 as of 4pm.

“We’re not sure why the numbers are lower, but we need to keep preparing food, water and transportation to be ready for them,” said Kor Sumsaroeun, Banteay Meanchey provincial governor.

Sumsaroeun and aid workers yesterday added that the swell of returning workers could spike again.

Thailand’s junta has staunchly maintained over the past week that it has no policy to crack down on workers and denied allegations of abuse.

Repatriated Cambodians, however, told the Post of being rounded up by soldiers and forced to pay bribes upwards of $66 to get out of detention and safely reach the border.

Thai government spokesman Colonel Winthai Suvari yesterday said that officials will be dispatched to areas where migrant workers are concentrated in efforts to learn of underlying problems arising from decades of mismanaged labour policy.

Meanwhile, Thai police rounded up 38 Cambodian workers fleeing perceived instability in Thailand via the train station in Thailand’s Hua Hin province.

The workers were detained for prosecution at the provincial police station.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Kuong said officials in Takeo province “are investigating the case”, and concluded that the unprecedented large-scale returns did not reflect any change of policy by the Thai military government.

Labour Minister Ith Sam Heng yesterday echoed the sentiment, and urged Cambodians to view the ongoing border crisis as a lessoned learned.

“The matter of the returned workers will not change the cooperation between Cambodia and Thailand; the fact is that they are sending back illegal workers,” he said. “I would like to appeal to workers planning to go to other countries: please go legally. If you do not, you will be subject to being sent back home.”

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY THE BANGKOK POST

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