Fifteen Cambodian migrant workers were deported from Thailand to Cambodia yesterday after having been detained in a prison in the Thai province of Sa Kaeo for 40 days, officials and the detainees said, adding they thought many more Cambodian workers were being held in harsh conditions in the same prison.
RCAF Brigadier General Dy Phan, deputy director for the Northwest Military Border Commission Office, said the workers, ranging in age from 19 to 50, were returned to Poipet City yesterday after being detained in Sa Kaeo following their arrest on April 30 while working in a Thai town close to the Cambodian-Thai border.
“Those Cambodians have been accused of illegally working at a construction site,” he said. “In fact, those Cambodian workers crossed the border legally after paying 10 baht to buy [temporary] border passes.”
“We believe and have received reports there are more, hundreds more Cambodians being held in prison, just in Sa Kaeo provincial prison alone. And we are investigating to help them return home,” he said, adding the workers had been released after his officials contacted Thai authorities following complaints from their families.
One of the returned workers, 19-year-old Chim Chamroen, said he was detained with about 50 other Cambodians in a 6-by-7-meter cell at the Sa Kaeo prison, adding he was among a group of 40 Cambodian workers arrested in early April.
“I saw a lot of Cambodians, some of whom had been convicted to one year to life imprisonment,” for charges such as illegal border crossing, drug smuggling and robbery, he said, claiming that Cambodian prisoners had been tortured.
Soum Chankea, provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said many Cambodians that crossed the border, legally or illegally, were subject to arrest and detention by Thai authorities.
“Poverty and high unemployment forces Cambodians to risk their life and cross the border to work,” he said, “We would like to appeal for understanding that legal Cambodian workers should not be arrested and placed in prisons in Thailand.”
Brig Gen Phan also said yesterday that the group of 29 Cambodians who were released last week from a factory in Thailand, after toiling in slavery-like conditions for two to three months without pay, were receiving medical treatment in Bangkok.