Military forces in Banteay Meanchey province prevented more than 400 people from crossing into Thailand from February to early this month, said Major General Chhun Mao, who heads the first regional command of Military Region 5.

He said 7,000 people had returned from Thailand through the provincial border checkpoint in July alone. Only around a dozen made it into Thailand last month and they were arrested.

Driven by a need for income, people were willing to risk illegally crossing the border to find work, Mao said.

He said some had been unemployed in Thailand and returned to Cambodia only to find jobs dried up in their home country as well. So, they decided to return to Thailand again, although most of them were caught before they could even look for a job.

Mao said: “More than 400 people left Cambodia for Thailand to find jobs but were caught by us and Thai police and returned home [through] the provincial border checkpoints.

“Their secret attempts to migrate create more difficulties for us because we need to spend time, money and personnel to send them into quarantine at their respective hometowns.”

The number of people returning from Thailand, Mao said, has decreased from 400 or 500 at the beginning of this year to 200 or 300 people per day of late.

On Saturday, Ministry of Interior secretary of state and National Committee for Counter Trafficking (NCCT) permanent vice-chair Chou Bun Eng said although Thailand closed its borders with Cambodia in March, around 1,000 citizens had been cheated by smugglers who helped them cross into Thailand only to be arrested and returned to the Kingdom.

The Centre for Alliance of Labour and Human Rights (Central) programme coordinator Khun Tharo said Cambodian migrant workers are continuing to risk migrating through small corridors, despite tight patrols by Thai and Cambodian authorities.

He said crossings are typically made with the assistance of brokers or collusion with friends or relatives. These crossings have not slowed down and continue to happen regularly.

“When [migrant workers] migrate, they have to spend money on brokers and people they know in order to cross the border without a guarantee of safety. But even though they can cross the border, they are then sent back by the Thai authorities,” he said.

He said some migrants were aware of the consequences of Covid-19 but decided to take the risk of travelling to Thailand for financial reasons.

Tharo urged the government to take more preventive measures.

“The government should find a way to open the border to a certain extent so that people along it can resume their businesses for a living.

“In addition, it should create more jobs in the country, such as in factories or industrial parks in the provinces, as well as continue to disseminate information on safe migration,” he said.