Cambodian workers on Saturday protested against the closing of unofficial border checkpoints in Banteay Meanchey, while hundreds of undocumented workers continued to return from Thailand through the official checkpoint in Poipet.
Villagers in Chambark cross the border to Thailand for work at Boeng Beng commune’s unofficial checkpoint in Malai district and return to Cambodia in the evening. But borders in Banteay Meanchey and Battambang were closed on July 7 after an announcement from the Interior Ministry.
Villager Duong Chiv, from Preah Netr Preah district, said he had been working in Thailand since his farmland was destroyed by a drought three years in a row. He said he needed to pay back a loan he had taken up to buy farm equipment. “I can earn about $7 to $9 per day by working on the corn and cassava plantations [in Thailand]. My family depends on my work in Thailand,” Chiv said.
Another villager, Theang Hoeun, 43, said Thai landowners depended on Cambodians crossing at Boeng Beng. “Thai farmers take 200 to 300 people per day . . . with the recognition of the border police,” she said.
But Si Chheang, commune deputy border police chief, said he could only reopen the checkpoint upon orders from the provincial level.
“We have the duty to protect the security and safety of the people along the border. The closure of the border passage is not at our discretion,” he said.
The borders were closed after a law was passed in Thailand that introduced stiff fines and prison sentences for undocumented workers, their employers and brokers. Undocumented workers can face fines of up to $3,000 and imprisonment of up to five years. The Thai government suspended the implementation of the new punishments until the end of the year.
And while the unofficial crossings in Banteay Meanchey remained closed, Cambodian migrant workers continued to return.
Sin Namyong, a Poipet border police officer, said 403 migrants returned on Friday, 382 on Saturday and 115 as of yesterday afternoon, bringing the total to more than 7,200.
The Ministry of Health on Thursday introduced a health checkpoint at the Poipet migrant transit centre. During a visit, Health Minister Mam Bunheng said the centre would “provide free first aid treatment” for returning migrants, as well as “vaccinations for kids who had not received them while in Thailand”.
The deputy chief of the Interior Ministry’s Anti-Human Trafficking Department, Yim Verak, on Friday said the Cambodian government would set up four centres in Thailand “to legalise undocumented workers”, but did not say where.
Additional reporting by Yon Sineat