More than 3,300 undocumented Cambodian migrant workers, including children, have been deemed ineligible for legal status in interviews with the Thai Labour Ministry and will now have to leave the country, according to Thailand’s Employment Department.
In June, Thailand imposed hefty fines and prison terms on undocumented migrants and their employers, but suspended their implementation until December 31.
During a two-week window that ended on August 7, workers were able register with the Employment Department to get documented. The department is now interviewing employees and employers to verify their relationships, among other criteria.
Workers who didn’t register, or didn’t pass the interview, will now have to leave the country, an official of the Employment Department said, requesting anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to the press.
“If migrants don’t pass the interview, they have to go back to their country and return under a memorandum of understanding [MoU],” he said.
The process to migrate under the Thai-Cambodian MoU has been criticised as being too expensive and time-consuming.
Those who pass, the official said, will have to apply for passports with the Cambodian Embassy in Thailand to become legal and evade the punishment.
According to an Employment Department database, 3,355 Cambodians among a group of more than 9,000 migrants from the region didn’t pass the interview as of yesterday evening.
Among these 9,000 were almost 800 minors who were ineligible for legal status because they were younger than 15. More than 100 were aged between 15 and 18 years, but failed because they were registered for work they weren’t allowed to perform.
Mom Sokchar, programme manager at Legal Support for Children and Women, expressed concern for the minors who weren’t allowed to stay. “Families might be separated,” he said. “The Thai government should respect the right to family.”
Dy The Hoya, of labour rights group Central, said children were particularly vulnerable because they didn’t have a path to becoming legal. “Most of them don’t even know whether they’re legal or illegal,” he said.
Almost 400,000 migrants have been interviewed so far. In total, more than 223,000 Cambodians will be interviewed.
About 1,500 Cambodian migrants failed the interview because they were found not to work for the employers they registered with before June 23. However, the majority were weeded out for reasons not published.
The Foreign Affairs Ministry and Cambodian Embassy could not be reached yesterday.