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Thai countdown for migrants

Migrant workers carry personal belongings with them as they cross the Thai-Cambodian border checkpoint in the town of Poipet last year
Migrant workers carry personal belongings with them as they cross the Thai-Cambodian border checkpoint in the town of Poipet last year. Vireak Mai

Thai countdown for migrants

Hundreds of thousands of Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand have been given until June 30 to obtain new work permits from Thai authorities or face deportation.

The Thai government approved new procedures on March 3 for its 1.6 million migrant workers and their dependents on temporary work permits that expire at the end of this month.

The National News Bureau of Thailand (NNT) reported on Sunday that workers from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar that have successfully completed a mandatory nationality verification process by March 31 will be granted two-year work visas.

Those who haven’t been verified – a lengthy process which requires workers to obtain official travel documents from their home countries – by the end of March need to report to authorities by June 30 in order to receive a one year work permit that will grant them more time.

“All unreported and unregistered workers . .  will be arrested for deportation in accordance with the law and the orders of the National Council for Peace and Order,” NNT reported.

Thailand’s coup in May last year triggered a mass exodus of workers back to Cambodia after rumours spread that the military was launching a tough crackdown on illegal labour.

Following that mass migration, One-Stop Service centres were opened in Cambodia to provide cheap passports to workers who could prove they had employment in Thailand.

But workers largely bypassed the system, with some 738,000 Cambodian migrants and dependents by November 29 last year having instead obtained temporary work permits at One Window Service offices in Thailand, according to government statistics.

The expiration of those permits this month, however, has raised fears of mass deportations.

Although the announcement provides relief, migrant support groups say the documentation and registration process is moving too slowly.

“[Poor] cooperation or coordination between the two countries still makes the process [to obtain documents] too long,” said Omsin Boonlert, a research and advocacy officer with the Mekong Migration Network.

Omsin cited the limited capacity of workers’ countries of origin to provide massive numbers of travel documents in a short time-frame.

Sara Piazzano, chief of party at Winrock International’s counter-trafficking in persons program, said Thailand’s announcement was expected, given that only approximately 10,000 Cambodian migrants have thus been able to complete the nationality verification process.

Numerous officials at the Ministry of Labour could not be reached for comment.

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