Gov’t Moves to Assist Workers Fleeing Thailand

As another estimated 10,000 migrant workers poured over the border from Thailand on Thursday, Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered 150 military trucks to bring them back to their home provinces, according to the governor of Poipet City.

A rights group, meanwhile, reported that as many as nine Cambodian workers may have been killed during raids by Thailand’s military junta, which this week began deporting illegal migrant workers en masse—rounding them up and squeezing them into caged trucks to drive them to the border.

Cambodian migrant workers arrive at the Poipet international border checkpoint yesterday, after being rounded up and deported by the Thai junta. (Soum Chankea)
Cambodian migrant workers arrive at the Poipet international border checkpoint yesterday, after being rounded up and deported by the Thai junta. (Soum Chankea)

Poipet City governor Ngor Mengchruon said Cambodian authorities are overwhelmed by the number of migrant workers arriving back in the country.

“Our forces are standing by to help our migrant workers, but today too many are being deported across the Poipet international checkpoint,” he said. “Now Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered 150 military trucks to be sent to help our migrant workers.”

Mr. Mengchruon estimated that at least 10,000 workers arrived Thursday alone. The provincial government provided 20 buses to help return workers home, and have been handing out food and water.

“All of our forces are too overwhelmed with them,” he said.

Rights group Adhoc on Thursday said there had been reports that up to nine migrants had been killed by Thai soldiers, while at least one more was reportedly beaten.

“Returnees have reported violent raids on houses where illegal immigrants are suspected of residing and incidences of the tearing up of documentation entitling Cambodians to work legally in the country,” a statement from Adhoc said.

Soum Chankea, Banteay Meanchey provincial coordinator for Adhoc, said he had spoken to returnees who said they were shot at and witnessed others killed.

In one case, he said, two men were shot to death after they tried to grab back legal working papers that soldiers began to tear up.

“We are now investigating these cases,” he said.

On Tuesday, more than 6,500 migrant workers passed through Poipet, and nearly 7,700 arrived the following day, according to officials at the border checkpoint.

The numbers stand in stark contrast to those provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which said on Wednesday that 7,507 workers arrived between June 1 and Monday.

An additional 600 workers arrived at O’Smach international checkpoint in Oddar Meanchey province, said commune chief Phang Sam Ath. There, too, provincial officials and the Cambodian Red Cross have had to step in to transport workers home.

At Prum international checkpoint in Pailin province, 772 workers returned—a threefold increase from the previous day, said Oum Kakrona, a border checkpoint police chief.

Another 760 migrant workers arrived at the Phnom Dey international checkpoint in Battambang province, bringing the three-day total to more than 3,000, according to Colonel Chhun Lon, chief of the border liaison office.

“According to the migrant workers, they were arrested by Thai soldiers because of martial law,” he said. “[The junta] has ordered all business owners to stop using illegal migrant workers; so our migrant workers have no job to do and they were arrested by Thai soldiers and sent to the military base before being deported.”

An Bunhak, president of Top Manpower and former head of the Association of Cambodian Recruitment Agencies, criticized the sweep, saying it had come without warning and left the government with no time to prepare.

“We are so sorry that the junta did this so quickly…. It is very hard for our government to help them,” he said.

But he conceded the roundup wasn’t wholly unpopular.

“I met some factory owners who are using legal migrant workers, they supported the junta’s action,” he said.

Sal Pheap, 19, had been employed at a Thai restaurant for a year when soldiers stormed in earlier this week to round up illegal immigrants.

A fluent Thai speaker, Mr. Pheap eluded them briefly, until they discovered he had no identity card.

“They arrested all of us and pulled us into a very big area—then they forced us to climb up into trucks,” he said.

The group was divided into two, and those who had money to bribe the officials were trucked out immediately. The rest languished for at least half a day.

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