621 Cambodians Deported From Bangkok

More than 600 Cambodians said to be beggars deported from Thailand arrived in Phnom Penh Monday, as part of Bangkok’s efforts to clean up its streets ahead of the Asia Pacific Eco­nom­ic Coopera­tion summit next month, officials said.

The 621 Cambodian illegal immigrants repatriated from Thailand arrived Monday by four C-130 cargo planes at the air force base near Phnom Penh Interna­tional Airport, an Interior Ministry official said. Thailand is reportedly rounding up beggars and home­less people of all nationalities as the summit nears.

Nuth Sa An, secretary-general for the Ministry of the Interior, said the deportation was not evidence of lingering bitterness between the Thai and Cam­bo­dian governments stemming from the Jan 29 anti-Thai riots in Phnom Penh.

“The Cambodian and Thai governments have a good relationship, and what the Thai government is doing is to ensure security in their country before the important APEC summit,” Nuth Sa An said.

“If any foreigner entered our country illegally, we would take the same meas­ures,” he added.

Prime Minister Hun Sen called Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra late Sunday evening to appeal to Thailand to hush up the expulsions, saying that allowing the media to cover the story would embarrass the Cambodian government, The Associated Press reported Monday, citing a Thai army general as its source.

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said he didn’t know about the reported phone call between the two leaders.

“I don’t believe Hun Sen asked the Thai prime minister not to expose the story further, because the story was already in the papers, and the Thais had notified the Cambodian Embassy before they talked to the press,” Khieu Kanharith said.

Journalists were reportedly barred from the military air base in Thailand from which the planes of human cargo departed.

Nuth Sa An disputed the Thais’ characterization of the deportees as beggars after seeing them arrive.

“They are not beggars. When we looked at them we saw they were strong and firm,” Nuth Sa An said. “They should be called workers instead.”

From the air force base, the repatriated Cambodians were transferred temporarily to a facility in Dangkao district, where they will be detained while police complete their documentation, said Khau Meng Hean, Funcin­pec secretary of state for the Interior Ministry.

“Then they will be sent back to their home villages,” he said.

Nuth Sa An said the Ministry of Interior will give each of the deportees 20 kg of rice and some noodles and canned fish, and will help transport them to their villages.

Khau Meng Hean said many of the returnees may have been trafficked.

“They have no money,” he said. “Some of these people were tricked and promised jobs. Then they were sold and in Thailand they were forced to work for no money.”

He acknowledged that Cambo­di­ans crossing the border highlighted the plight of the poor in Cambodia.

“I have seen people without enough rice in the countryside, while people in the cities have cars,” Khau Meng Hean said. “These Cambodians left for Thai­land because they cannot get a job here. The next government needs to address this matter.”

The Thais have also promised to deport illegal Laotians and Burmese before the APEC meeting. Khau Meng Hean said that the Burmese and Laotians will be deported by bus.

Khau Meng Hean noted that Thailand “deported Cambo­dians by plane, and the others by bus. So the Cambodians have received better treatment.”

(Additional reporting by Nick Engstrom)

 

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