Repatriations from Thailand spiked this week, with the Kingdom’s western neighbour deporting almost a thousand irregular migrant workers back to Cambodia in the last two days, while some others will face Thai courts.
Chea Manith, director of the Poipet Transit Centre, said a total of 647 workers were deported on Wednesday because they were lacking work permits. She added that 42 migrant workers had been sent to Thai courts since June 22.
“The migrant workers said they’re mainly working in the construction and agriculture industries,” she said.
Sin Namyong, a Poipet police officer, said that five trucks, each carrying 50 to 60 workers, were sent across the border yesterday, totalling 250 to 350 workers.
“Many of them came from the Chonburi and Saraburi provinces,’’ Namyong said.
Chonticha Tang, programme officer at the Human Rights and Development Foundation Thailand, said in an email that the deportations formed part of a “widespread crackdown”, to which international pressure had contributed.
“I think you can say that international pressure, both [this week’s US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons] report and EU review, is a drive for this continuing and increasing effort in regulating migrant workers’ employment,” she said.
The EU had issued Thailand a yellow card for its fishing industry in 2015, putting it under stricter supervision.
“There are also flows of workers voluntarily leaving in fear of punishment,” Chonticha said.
International Organisation for Migration Programme Manager Kristin Dadey said this week’s numbers were much higher than the usual 100 to 200 deportees per day.
The deportations also come a few days after the passing of a new Thai Royal Ordinance, which imposes stricter punishments on undocumented and irregular migrant workers, their brokers and their employers. Irregular workers can face up to five years imprisonment and almost $3,000 in fines.
Asked about the new ordinance and the deportations, Dadey said “we are not for criminalising” irregular workers.
Director of the Environmental Justice Foundation Steve Trent said in an email on Tuesday that the ordinance “forms part of broader effort of the Thai Government to regulate labour migration”. He said the Thai government needed to sign ILO conventions C87 and C98 on freedom of association and collective bargaining rights in order to remove “the structural conditions of exploitation”.
Cambodian Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Chum Sounry said that the Thai government “is enforcing and implementing their law to crack down on illegal migrant workers”, and that the Cambodian Embassy in Thailand provided legal support. The embassy could not be reached.