Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Migrant worker repatriations drop

Migrant worker repatriations drop

Migrant worker repatriations drop

Figures show fewer Cambodians overall – but more women – are being sent back from Thailand

THE number of illegal migrant workers who have been repatriated by Thai police has dropped sharply in the first five months of this year, when compared with the first half of 2008, according to an immigration official in Banteay Meanchey on Wednesday. But the number of women who have been sent back to Cambodia has more than tripled.

Em Thon, the administration director of immigration in Poipet, Banteay Meanchey province, said that from January to May, 22,500 illegal migrant workers were sent back to Cambodia, compared with 56,617 in the first half of 2008.

During those same two periods, however, 8,250 women were repatriated in five months in 2009 and 2,466 in the first six months of 2008, he said.

Em Thon blamed the decrease on the global economic crisis and unrest in Thailand, but added that many Cambodians are also becoming more aware of the dangers that they face working illegally across the border.

"Illegal workers are also afraid of circumstances in Thailand, and some of them now are really aware that with the illegal jobs there, they will always face problems with the Thai authorities," he said.

Ya Navuth, director of the NGO Coordination of Action Research on AIDS and Mobility (CARAM), said that many more women than men have lost their jobs in the region as a result of the economic crisis and that this is forcing more and more women to become illegal migrants.

When they are sent back to Cambodia, many of them, he said, feel they have no other option but to become sex workers.

"There are a lot of jobless women who come back and go into the entertainment industry," he said.

Em Thon said that between 100 and 150 migrants are being repatriated daily, but that the number has not been consistent throughout the year. In mid-May, there was a spike in the number of illegal migrants being returned, with as many as 500 migrants a day forced back.

And Sao Bunrith, the immigration police chief in Poipet, says he typically see jumps in repatriations shortly before the Khmer New Year, suggesting that most illegal migrants sent back by Thai authorities used repatriations as a way to save money.

"Most of them want the Thai authorities to send them back home so they don't need to spend a lot on transportation," he said.

Oum Mean, secretary of state at the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training, urged Cambodians not to cross the border without the required legal documentation, but to instead allow his department to help people acquire the skills and documents to work in Thailand legally.

"Currently, the government offers short vocational training courses for all of them [people interested in working in Thailand] to get the exact skills," he said.

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