Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Migrants flee Thai instability



Migrants flee Thai instability

Migrant workers are transported in a Thai immigration police vehicle at Poipet International Checkpoint
Migrant workers are transported in a Thai immigration police vehicle at Poipet International Checkpoint over the weekend. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Migrants flee Thai instability

Thousands of Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand are rushing back across the border, voluntarily repatriating themselves in the face of increasingly hostile rhetoric towards undocumented labourers.

In the wake of Thailand’s coup d’état last month, army chief General Prayuth Chan-o-Cha urged better regulation of the workforce and warned illegal workers of their tenuous and unwelcome status, last week outlining ways “to prevent [an] illegal work force from entering into the country and give more work opportunities to Thai nationals”.

In response, many undocumented and unregistered Cambodian workers are deciding to show themselves the door. Border officials said groups of workers are cramming into military trucks, opting to be sent home rather than incur potential punishment.

“They are scared and decided themselves to come back. One day, around 100 or more came with Thai military transporting them to the border,” said Colonel Chin Piseth, deputy director of the Cambodian-Thai border relations office in Poipet.

Piseth estimated that thousands of Cambodians have returned since last week when the Thai military announced it would not take responsibility for any incident involving undocumented migrants.

While forcible expulsions from Thailand are not uncommon – a UN study found more than 89,000 Cambodians were deported from Thailand in 2009 for illegal migration – en masse voluntary returns or large round-ups of employed workers is extremely unusual, according to Moeun Tola, head of the labour program at the Community Legal Education Center.

“The military government has made it clear they want to control the situation with illegal workers. I’m not sure if they are worried Cambodians will join the ‘red shirt’ uprising or what,” he said.

“Before, a worker could be arrested and fined or deported, but now they can also be shot and killed. It’s gotten even more dangerous for migrant workers, and there’s no priority to improve the situation for them.”

Border officials said many of the daily returns include dozens of minors, summoned home by worried relatives.

Adding to the fears, Thai media have reported a rising number of arrests and crackdowns on migrant workers following the coup, with numbers particularly high over the past few days, according to Andy Hall, a migration expert based in Thailand and Myanmar.

“However, generally in my experience, police and law enforcement arrest, extort money from workers and their employers, and then simply release them unless they need to prove a deportation quota,” he said, adding that it is economically unviable for Thailand to send home all of its hundreds of thousands of undocumented workers.

Cambodian border police, meanwhile, claim the number of workers crossing has dwindled to almost none, and they intend to keep it that way.

“If we find them, we will not let them go, because we fear the danger,” said So Channary, commander of Border Police Infantry Unit 911.

MOST VIEWED

  • Phnom Penh unveils rules for post-lockdown transition

    The Phnom Penh Municipal Administration issued a set of detailed guidelines for the seven days to May 12 after the capital emerges from lockdown at the onset of May 6. In the 14-page document signed by municipal governor Khuong Sreng released on the evening of May 5, the

  • SBI LY HOUR Bank Launches Cross Border Money Transfer Service between Cambodia and Vietnam on RippleNet, utilizing DLT

    SBI LY HOUR Bank Plc and Hanoi-based Tien Phong Commercial Joint Stock Bank (TPBank) on Friday launched the first Cambodia-Vietnam money transfer service in real currency via RippleNet, provided by SBI Ripple Asia Co Ltd to provide safe, fast and convenient services. SBI LY HOUR

  • Gov’t issues guidelines as lockdown nears end

    The government has issued a five-page set of instructions to be enforced when the three-week lockdown of Phnom Penh and adjacent Takmao town in Kandal province ends on May 6. According to an announcement signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen on May 4, the instructions cover a

  • Cambodia ready to exit LDC status

    Cambodia is well-prepared to minimise economic risks when it graduates from its Least Developed Countries status, according to a senior official at the Ministry of Commerce on May 7. Four LDCs – Cambodia, Laos, Bangladesh and Nepal – met at a virtual workshop last week to explore potential

  • Nine US franchises eye Cambodia debut

    Nine famous US franchising companies are looking for business opportunities and expansion into Cambodia to build a footstep for a strong foundation in Southeast Asia. The US embassy in Phnom Penh, in partnership with the US Foreign Commercial Service and with support from the American

  • Lost in translation: ‘Starvation’ in capital’s designated red zones

    “DACH bay” is a Khmer slang meaning a “loss of income”, that could also be literally translated to «deprived of rice”, which alludes to starvation. However, civil society organisation (CSO) officials have independently confirmed the government’s prior assertions that there are no cases of