CAMBODIAN citizens and migrant workers from other nations working in Thailand are frequently subject to extortion and abuse, denied basic legal protections by local authorities, according to a report from Human Rights Watch.
Released on Tuesday, the report documents a litany of dangers inherent in the lives of the perhaps 3 million migrant workers in Thailand from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, even those who are working legally.
“Migrant workers make huge contributions to Thailand’s economy, but receive little protection from abuse and exploitation,” Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “Those from Burma, Cambodia and Laos suffer horribly at the hands of corrupt civil servants and police, unscrupulous employers and violent thugs, who all realise they can abuse migrants with little fear of consequences.”
Typical of this suffering is the case of Oem Borey, a Cambodian who was working on a fishing boat off the coast of Thailand’s Trat province when he began to argue with the ship’s captain. Oem Borey said that after being beaten by the captain and several other fishermen, he was dragged ashore and accused by Thai police of attempting to steal the boat, and that he suffered further beatings while in custody.
“Oem Borey suffered a deep gash on the head, a broken nose, possible broken ribs, and other injuries, but he said ... police refused to send him to the hospital,” the report states, adding that Oem Borey was released two weeks later, only after his sister paid 2,300 baht (US$70).
Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs deputy spokesman Thani Thongphakdi said Tuesday that Thailand was “looking through the paper, because in the past we’ve tried to cooperate with [Human Rights Watch] in providing any information we can.”
Thailand, Thani said, hopes to address this issue in part through its current push to register migrant workers. Migrants in Thailand must submit documents to their home governments by this Sunday in order to begin the process of nationality verification to secure new work permits.
Workers who miss this deadline will be deported, Bangkok says, a decision that has come under criticism from groups, including the UN and the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women, which said Tuesday that mass deportations “could leave [migrant workers] dangerously exposed to the risk of human trafficking”.
Thani, however, emphasised the need to impose a stronger legal framework on the migration process. “The big picture is that we want to essentially try to legalise the issue of illegal migrant workers, because once we do legalise them and institute a more orderly process, then these migrant workers will be afforded more rights and protection,” he said.
For the moment, Human Rights Watch said, official registration channels are inaccessible for many workers.
“The highly complicated migrant registration system is daunting to many migrant workers who lack both the detailed understanding of the bureaucratic steps and the requisite skill in written and spoken Thai to successfully navigate the process,” the report said, adding that even migrants working in Thailand legally face significant difficulties. Many are unable to assert their labour rights for fear of losing their jobs and being deported, and others have reported abuse by the local population amid inattention from police.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong encouraged Cambodians who suffer mistreatment in Thailand to seek assistance.
“We have an embassy there in Bangkok, and we have a consular general ... so our representation there means we can receive information if any Cambodian workers suffer such ill treatment,” he said.
Though official figures are difficult to come by, with so many migrants working illegally, Andy Hall, director of Thailand’s Migrant Justice Programme, guessed Sunday that more than 200,000 Cambodians are currently working in Thailand.
Bun Socheat, 36, of Prey Veng province, was formerly among them. He told the Post on Tuesday that he had worked in Thailand illegally for six years, constantly fearing arrest and forced to bribe police to avoid deportation.
“I told my relatives and I promised myself that I will not go to work in Thailand again, even though we have no jobs in our country,” he said.