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Junta to target Cambodian beggars

As Cambodian migrant workers continue spilling back into the country from Thailand, the junta announced yesterday that it will clear out its homeless and destitute in attempts to “address” the ongoing problem of mainly Cambodian beggars roaming the streets.

In the announcement, Yanee Lertkrai, director-general of the Department of Social Development and Welfare, said the effort was part of Thailand’s continued endeavour to regulate its workforce and clamp down on rampant human trafficking.

Yanee claimed that more than 90 per cent of the child beggars in Thailand are Cambodian, and that the military government has made an agreement with Cambodia to deport them.

But government spokesman Phay Siphan and officials from the Ministry of Social Affairs yesterday said they had not heard of such an arrangement and have concerns about the policy’s repercussions.

“These people are used to making a living in Thailand, so of course if they return, it will affect Cambodia, as now they’ll need to find income here,” Siphan said.

The junta’s statement follows a long history of forcible repatriations of Cambodian beggars, including a 2003 order to round them up and use air force planes to fly them as far as possible from the border. But the practice has never worked.

“Using street sweeps and deportations against beggars has been like throwing a boomerang … the Cambodian beggars just come right back to Bangkok within a week or so of being sent out,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch.

For beggars faced with a choice of extreme poverty or being smuggled into Thailand with the assistance of human traffickers, “the considerable income to be made from begging for them outweighs the risks,” Friends International warned.

If Thailand wants to get serious about modifying its ranking this year as one of the worst countries for human trafficking, other rights groups added, it’s going to have to abandon the unsuccessful repatriations, which criminalise the impoverished beggars and side-step the smuggling networks.

“[I]t’s a lot more about politics than actual reform,” said Ou Virak, Cambodian Center for Human Rights chairman.

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