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Passport posts a go

04 osmach oddar meanchey
Migrant workers attend a re-education session after being prevented from entering Thailand at the O’Smach International Border Checkpoint in Oddar Meanchey province last year. Photograph: Buth Reaksmey Kongkea/Phnom Penh Post

Cambodia is making plans to open passport offices along its border with Thailand in a bid to cut down on illegal migration, Interior Minister Sar Kheng announced yesterday.

Speaking at the close of a migration workshop, Kheng said that officials are already preparing to open a new passport office in Battambang province and will open others in major border-crossing provinces such as Banteay Meanchey and Oddar Meanchey in the future.

“I have agreed to create passport posts along the border to provide passport services to Cambodian workers going to Thailand,” he said. “At least they can cross into Thailand legally, even if they have worked illegally.”

Currently, Cambodia’s only passport office is in Phnom Penh.

Last December, the passport issue rose to new prominence when Thailand threatened to expel the roughly 165,000 Cambodian workers who did not have proper documents permitting them to work in the country.

The two governments worked out a solution in which Cambodian officials would distribute passports to workers within Thailand, obviating the need to return to Cambodia and then re-cross into Thailand legally – a process that puts migrants at risk for exploitation and debt slavery.

However, Kheng said, only some 2,000 of the 9,000 Cambodian migrants included in the first round of passport issuances in Thailand have been processed.

“Just 2,000 illegal workers have them already, but how about the huge amount [of workers] that is still left? I appeal to urge officials to hurry to do this job in order to make our illegal workers in Thailand legal workers,” he said.  

Banteay Meanchey anti-human trafficking chief Ly Chandara said that border police always advise detained illegal migrants not to continue crossing illegally, but to no avail.

Recently released illegal migrant repatriation figures from the Ministry of Interior indicated an uptick in unlawful emigration, and on Wednesday, 85 Cambodians – including four children – were repatriated after being detained in Thailand’s Aranyaprathet district.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY PHAK SEANGLY

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