ABOUT 700 Cambodian beggars and migrant labourers were repatriated from Thailand through Koh Kong and Banteay Meanchey provinces on Monday, government officials and rights workers said.
Provincial monitors from the local rights group Adhoc said Thailand deported 357 Cambodians via Koh Kong province, and between 300 and 400 through Banteay Meanchey province.
“They sent back the workers and beggars because they want to clean up Bangkok and maintain social order,” said Ouk Vantheth, an Adhoc monitor in Koh Kong. “Our beggars in Thailand affected their social order.”
Khun Mara, deputy director of the immigration office at Koh Kong’s Cham Yeam border gate, said the group had been detained for one week in Thailand before being returned to Cambodia.
“They transported them like animals in the cages and threw them away at the border,” Khun Mara said of the Thai authorities, adding that Cambodian officials had the deportees thumbprint a statement vowing that they would not return to Thailand.
Soum Chankea, Adhoc provincial coordinator in Banteay Meanchey province, said a similarly large group of migrants had been repatriated through the Poipet border gate.
Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said the deportations were a normal implementation of Thailand’s immigration law, and unrelated to recent diplomatic tensions between Thailand and Cambodia.
“It’s similarly applied to all countries and nationalities,” Panitan said, adding that Thailand had received “very good cooperation” from Cambodia in the repatriation process.
Thai officials say the deportations aim in part to reduce human trafficking, though some rights advocates say deportees are not being properly screened to determine whether they are eligible to stay in the country.
Chhea Manit, director of the Poipet Transit Centre, said Tuesday that Thailand had deported 16,253 Cambodians via the Banteay Meanchey border thus far in 2010, after returning 91,268 in 2009. She called on the Cambodian government to address the issue by developing employment opportunities within the Kingdom.
The deportees “migrated to Thailand because they could not find domestic jobs and they don’t have land for farming or capital for business”, she said. “The government should encourage investment in factories along the border to prevent the migration of people to neighbouring countries.”
Chan Sambath, director of Koh Kong’s Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Office, said the government was doing its best to help poor migrants but had limited resources.
“We do not have the budget to give them vocational training, but we have cooperated with NGOs in providing taxi fees to send them back to their hometowns,” he said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JAMES O’TOOLE