A new transit centre on the border at Poipet will be set up to temporarily house illegal Cambodian workers who have been arrested and deported by Thai authorities, the Ministry of Social Affairs announced on Sunday.
A delegation led by Minister of Social Affairs Vong Soth marked out a one-hectare plot of land for the centre, telling local media it was crucial to provide shelter and training for migrants and trafficking victims from Thailand, many of whom are vulnerable and homeless, and reintegrate them back into their communities.
Khun Vuth, director of the Social Affairs department in Banteay Meanchey, said the existing centre was far too small and too far from the Poipet border checkpoint.
“They stand around everywhere when they were repatriated – at the police office at the Poipet border or on the street – because they do not have an appropriate place to stay or have training,” he said, unable to elaborate on what such training might entail.
Poipet commune chief Sin Namyung said given the volume of returnees, such a centre was sorely needed. “Every day, there are normally 80 to 100 Cambodian migrant workers repatriated from Thailand via the Poipet border. Yesterday alone, some 300 Cambodian-Muslim migrant workers were repatriated due to expired passports,” she said.
But Moeun Tola, from labour rights group Central, warned the planned centre was only a band-aid for the much larger problem of mass migration out of the Kingdom.
“I don’t object to this, but I would suggest the Ministry of Social Affairs tries to identify the root cause that pushes those people to migrate to Thailand,” he said.
“Some of them are in debt and they need the income to pay back the loan . . . they want training, but what they need is income.”
He said the government should provide free short-term accommodation for returned workers and that it was crucial they were not further exploited at the proposed centre.
“They must be very careful about that; we have the bad experience with the Prey Speu rehabilitation centre. So it should be a good service where people can place their trust . . . they must not take money from the migrant workers, and not create any abuses or corruption,” he said.
He added that the government should ease the process for working legally across the border to prevent illegal migration.
Additional reporting by Erin Handley