After the rush of Cambodian migrant workers swelling over the border appeared to finally be subsiding last week, officials said the number started to spike again yesterday, attributing the rise to the announcement of $4 passports.
On Friday, Prime Minister Hun Sen signed a subdecree that will see the normal fee of $124 for passports reduced to just $4 for students and migrant workers.
The same day, the number of workers crossing back into Cambodia via the Poipet International Checkpoint declined to 2,421 – towards the lower end of the scale since the mass exodus of workers fleeing Thailand began two weeks ago, but still vastly higher than the 100-person norm before the crisis.
But on Saturday and Sunday, an increasing number of migrants poured into the small checkpoint again.
“I think they heard about the passport prakas,” Banteay Meanchey governor Korsum Saroeurt said. “Many people are saying that they want to come back, get their passport and visa, and return to their jobs in Thailand.”
More than 220,000 mostly undocumented Cambodian workers have come back from Thailand so far, most fleeing fears of an imminent junta-led crackdown. They left behind jobs mainly in construction and agriculture that paid twice as much as in Cambodia.
“Cheaper passports are good but won’t end the problems. The workers will still be exploited,” said Kem Ley, an independent political analyst. “[The government] reduced the cost of the passport, but they didn’t raise the wages of the civil servants responsible for processing the passport or patrolling the border.”
Last week, passport troubles led to 13 migrant workers who were trying to come back to Cambodia going to prison in Thailand instead.
“They were cheated by their ringleader,” said Moeung Mony, an official at the Cambodian-Thai border relations office in Poipet. He added that the workers were not aware that their visas were fake.
The workers are in detention in Thailand awaiting legal assistance from Cambodia, according to Neth Sary, Cambodian consul general in Thailand’s Sa Kaeo province.
On Friday, NGOs ADHOC and Human Rights Watch both urged the junta to improve treatment of migrant workers.