Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Migrant labourers flood border

Migrant labourers flood border

Cambodian migrant workers are transported in a Thai immigration police vehicle across the Poipet International Checkpoint
Cambodian migrant workers are transported in a Thai immigration police vehicle across the Poipet International Checkpoint over the weekend. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Migrant labourers flood border

Din Phivorn, 20, crammed into a Thai army truck yesterday morning with 15 or so other migrant workers and headed to the Poipet checkpoint he crossed more than two years ago, lured by the promise of work.

Now, dismissed from his employment as a construction worker, he has no idea where he will sleep or how he will earn a living – one among thousands of undocumented Cambodian labourers subject to an unprecedented mass deportation instigated by Thailand’s junta.

Official government figures list 7,500 Cambodian workers deported over the first nine days of June, but rights groups say the number is even higher, with more than 10,000 and counting streaming over the border, more than half of them women and children.

“I’ve been working here for 10 years and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Suong Sopheap, Banteay Meanchey provincial manager of the Cambodia Women’s Crisis Center. “Normally, one or two trucks sometimes come and drop off workers, but now every day 30 or more come, even at night. It’s constant.”

Turned into what resembles a refugee camp full of temporary tents, the Poipet border office can’t keep up with the continuous truckloads of deposited workers, according to Sopheap, so deportees line both sides of the border in the hundreds, with many, like Phivorn, effectively stranded.

“So many have nowhere to go, but they would rather be homeless in Cambodia than dare to go back to Thailand,” Sopheap said.

For Phivorn, the choice to stay or go was made for him after he was essentially torn from his life in Thailand.

“My construction employer asked us to return to Cambodia temporarily because the Thai military government announced that they would check all companies and if they found illegal migrant workers, they would fine the employer 10,000 baht ($333) for each worker and would arrest and bring the worker to detention,” he said.

Phivorn didn’t need further convincing after a rumour now familiar to most deportees at the compound started spreading: any undocumented Cambodian found by the army may be shot and killed if they don’t leave the country within the next two months.

Cambodian officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday said the government is working to ensure that no undocumented workers face retribution.

“So far, our ambassador has met with relevant Thai authorities to facilitate the return of illegal workers,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said. “We ask Thailand not to punish them, just to send them home.”

While Kuong framed the repatriations as an opportunity for Cambodian businesses, migration experts said the draconian policy could backfire for Thailand, which depends on its estimated 3.5 million-strong migrant labour workforce.

“Many industries in Thailand would come to a standstill if the migrants were not here, including the manufacturing industry, seafood processing, fishing industry, fruit orchards, rubber plantations, the list is endless,” said Kanchana Di-ut, program director at Thai NGO MAP Foundation.

But so far, the truckloads of deportees are continuing unabated, and with an estimated 100,000-250,000 undocumented Cambodian workers still in Thailand, local authorities said they can’t do much more than scramble to help those on their way home.

MOST VIEWED

  • PM responds to Rainsy ticket claims

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday expressed frustration over claims by Sam Rainsy that he had altered Rainsy’s ticket with Thai Airways to prevent him boarding his November 7 flight to Thailand, from where he had claimed he would enter Cambodia. Hun Sen made the

  • Phnom Penh International Airport wins award as passenger traffic soars

    The Phnom Penh International Airport has been awarded Best Asia Pacific Regional Airport 2019 for its sustained high growth in passenger traffic in recent years. The award was presented by the Capa Centre for Aviation (Capa) – a world-leading and trusted organisation that provides market intelligence to

  • PM urges ‘democracies’ to learn from horrors Cambodia faced

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday chided countries that he said declared themselves a democracy while supporting a military coup that eventually gave birth to the Khmer Rouge regime. Speaking during the 2nd Asia-Pacific Summit at the Peace Palace, Hun Sen said without naming those

  • Princess Buppha Devi passes away aged 77

    Princess Norodom Buppha Devi, who was famous for her skills and key roles behind the Kingdom’s Royal Ballet, passed away on Monday from unspecified illness at a hospital in the Thai capital Bangkok, according to the official Facebook page of King Norodom Sihamoni. “May

  • PM: Request for release of plotters not due to pressure

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on Saturday said his request to have the supporters of former opposition leader Sam Rainsy and his “coup plot” released on bail was not made under international pressure. Speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of 34 roads in Preah Sihanouk

  • Ministry deplores RFA report on EBA

    The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation on Friday deplored as fake news a Radio Free Asia (RFA) report that it had received a copy of the European Commission’s assessment on the human rights situation in Cambodia as part of the Everything But