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

  • Cambodia on the verge of national tragedy, WHO warns

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia warned that the country had reached another critical point amid a sudden, huge surge in community transmission cases and deaths. “We stand on the brink of a national tragedy because of Covid-19. Despite our best efforts, we are

  • Phnom Penh curfew starts today

    A two-week curfew from 8pm to 5am starts today in Phnom Penh, a day after a sub-decree detailing administrative measures to contain Covid-19 was issued by Prime Minister Hun Sen. “Travelling in Phnom Penh is temporally banned between 8pm and 5am,” said Phnom Penh governor

  • Vaccination open to foreigners in Cambodia

    The Ministry of Health on April 8 issued an announcement on Covid-19 vaccination for foreigners residing and working in Cambodia, directing the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training and local authorities to register them. Health minister Mam Bun Heng, who is also head of the inter-ministerial

  • Cambodia gears up for muted New Year festival

    The recent curfew and restrictions imposed in the capital and other Covid-19 hotspots were intended to break the chain of transmission, Ministry of Health spokeswoman Or Vandine said as municipal and provincial authorities issued new directives banning certain activities during the upcoming Khmer New Year

  • Culture ministry: Take Tuol Sleng photos down, or else

    The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts has told Irish photographer Matt Loughrey to take down the photos of Khmer Rouge victims at Tuol Sleng Genocidal Museum which he allegedly colourised and altered to show them smiling. The ministry said Loughrey's work is unacceptable, affecting

  • Covid-19 vaccination now obligatory

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on April 11 issued a sub-decree making Covid-19 vaccination compulsory for individuals unless they have a medical certificate proving they have pre-existing health conditions that prevent them from doing so. «This applies to all members of the armed forces and civil servants