Processing of arrested workers remains unclear under government policy
[The arrested workers] are illegal. they will be put into camps.
MORE than 400 Cambodian migrant workers have been detained in a series of raids throughout Thailand since Wednesday, although it remained unclear on Sunday how they would be processed in the wake of new policies approved earlier this month by Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.
The policies, outlined in a June 2 order signed by Abhisit, include the establishment of a “special centre to suppress, arrest and prosecute alien workers who are working underground”, though few details of the centre have been made public.
The move to detain and potentially prosecute alien workers, however, has alarmed some rights workers, who were previously under the impression that they would simply be deported.
Migrant workers had until March 2 to begin the process of nationality verification, wherein they were to submit documents to their home governments in order to secure new work permits in Thailand. According to statistics from the Human Rights and Development Foundation, 43,301 Cambodian migrant workers missed the deadline and thus could be subjected to the new measures.
HRDF’s Migrant Justice Programme released statistics Sunday night showing that 307 out of 830 migrant workers arrested in Bangkok between June 16 and June 20 were Cambodians. The statistics, drawn from Thai news reports, showed that the number of arrested Cambodians was second only to workers from Myanmar, who totalled 346.
A report published Sunday by INN News quoted a Bangkok metropolitan police commander as saying at a press conference that those arrested “were alien workers who entered the Kingdom of Thailand illegally”.
The report said that the raids were part of the broader crackdown on illegal workers, and pointed to unspecified “evidence” that such workers were responsible for a rise in crime in Thailand.
An article published Saturday by the Thai news service Daily News Online said 99 Cambodian workers – 66 of them male and 33 female – were arrested in Sa Kaeo province, and that they were believed to have been travelling south to find work.
Supat Guukhun, deputy director general of the employment office at the Thai ministry of labour, said on Sunday that all 99 of those workers were illegal.
“They are illegal; they will be put into camps,” he said. “After their cases are finished, they will be released. But if the case is made criminal, they will be put in jail.”
He could not provide information on the raids carried out in Bangkok.
MJP Director Andy Hall said the high number of arrests over the weekend suggested that implementation of the policies approved on June 2 had begun in earnest.
“There is a lot of stuff in the news recently. It’s not usually this many,” he said. “We don’t want these people arrested, rounded up and extorted. We don’t want it on such a large scale.”
He said he was unsure of what would happen to the arrested workers, noting that few details had been included in the June 2 order.
Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said that the arrests were in accordance with government policy.
“We have a policy of making sure we handle our illegal immigration laws,” he said. “We welcome migrant workers; they contribute to our economy. But they need to follow the rules and regulations. They need to register and they need to be regulated.”
He referred all questions on specific cases to the Thai ministry of foreign affairs, spokesmen for which could not be reached Sunday.
Cambodian Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said Sunday that he had not received any word of the recent arrests.
He noted, as he did last week, that a memorandum of understanding exists between Cambodia and Thailand calling for the deportation of migrant workers back to the Kingdom.
According to the statistics on the Bangkok arrests provided by HRDF, 172 of the workers were from Laos. There were also two workers from Iran and Vietnam, and one from Nigeria and India.