The 150,000 illegal Cambodian workers currently living in Thailand may escape deportation after all, Cambodian and Thai officials said yesterday.
According to representatives of the two governments, a plan is currently in the works that would allow Cambodian officials to travel to Thailand and begin issuing passports to workers out of the embassy in Bangkok, passports that the Thai government would then affix with the proper visa and work permit without forcing the workers to exit the country and come back across the border legally – a process that experts have said puts workers at risk of debt bondage.
“So far, our working group is working with their Thai counterparts about that, and now our government has decided to send a working group to provide a passport to our people there, our workers,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong said.
“It means that we will provide passports to our workers there at our Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok [starting] from the 28th this month.”
Kuong said that he did not know when the program would close, but that officials would try to issue passports to “as many Cambodians as possible”.
“Our working group tries to work with their Thai counterparts so [workers] will not be deported, because deportation will make the work complicated,” he said.
Dr Somkiat Chayasriwong, permanent secretary to the Thai Ministry of Labour, confirmed that talks were indeed in the works, but that nothing was set in stone.
“We are talking to Cambodians, [asking] can they send officials to make the passport in Thailand,” he said, noting that Cambodians would then “be able to stay and work for their same employer”.
Somkiat also said that if Cambodians got their passports while inside the country, the Thai government would consider issuing necessary work documents in-country as well.
“If they get the passport from the government, we will do it in Thailand too, without going to the border,” Somkiat said. “It is not definite, but we try to do it so it’s more convenient.”
Labour migration expert Andy Hall of Thailand’s Mahidol University said that he had yet to hear of the agreement but, if it went through, it would be a “commendable” process.
However, he noted, because illegal migrants aren’t allowed to travel between provinces, getting to Bangkok to receive the passports could become cost-prohibitive.
“It doesn’t have to be, but generally it becomes that way,” he said. “When they have to travel somewhere, they come across enforcement agents, and they come across corrupt officials who just take money from them.”