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Drought prompting cross-border exodus

THE continuing drought has prompted hundreds of villagers from Banteay Meanchey province to cross the border illegally and pursue day work in Thailand, rights group Adhoc reported yesterday.

Sum Chan Kea, Adhoc’s provincial coordinator, said 400 families in Banteay Chhmar commune, in Thma Pouk district, were facing food shortages and would soon join the daily flood of villagers who illegally cross the border to work.

“There will be more people illegally crossing the border like this when the rainy season ends. To fill their stomachs, they are forced to take risks and cross the border illegally into Thailand,” he said.

Sum Chan Kea said the threat of a military confrontation between Thailand and Cambodia over the recent border dispute had also scared some villagers away from farming rice fields close to the frontier.

Horm Sam An, deputy governor of Thma Puok district, rebuffed Adhoc’s claims, saying that illegal migration was actually decreasing.

“The number of people who cross the border illegally into Thailand has decreased a lot, specifically from 10 [people per day] to around three only,” she said.

She said a previous influx of cassava and rice farmers from neighbouring provinces, which led to unemployment throughout the province, had already led authorities to conduct education campaigns about the dangers of illegally crossing the border to enter the Thai labour market.

At a conference in Phnom Penh earlier this year, rights groups voiced concerns that Cambodian migrants illegally entering Thailand risked being trafficked into slave labour or other forms of servitude.

Keo Vy, chief of cabinet for the National Committee for Disaster Management, said yesterday that if rainfall did not increase soon, farmers in Kandal, Prey Veng, Kampong Cham and Kampot provinces could face more problems.

“If the rain continues not to fall in those provinces until September, it could really be said that the drought is a serious situation which could have a bad effect on agricultural crops,” he said.

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