poipet town, Banteay Meanchey province – Human trafficking into Thailand is increasing at the Poipet border crossing, where government efforts to crack down on human smuggling have been thwarted by a slippery judicial system and unscrupulous border police, anti-trafficking police said last week.
From the time the border checkpoint opens at 7 am, when a blaring recording of the Cambodian national anthem stops the bustling street traffic in its tracks, until it closes at 8 pm, roughly 10,000 Cambodians buy one-day passes to cross into Thailand and return each day, Thai immigration police officials said.
The daily count of passes collected by Thai authorities matches the number of passes reported sold by the Cambodian side, said a high-ranking Thai immigration official in Aranyaprathet town, who declined to be named.
But Chuon Vath, bureau chief of the Banteay Meanchey provincial police’s anti-human trafficking unit, said her office has received reports that border officials on the Cambodian side are selling up to 20 day passes at a time to traffickers for a small kickback.
“Thousands of Cambodian people have been crossing the border for quite a long time, and large amounts of them have not returned back to Cambodia and are working illegally in Thailand,” Chuon Vath said
“Most of the people who have been in Thailand illegally told me that they only paid small money to both Khmer and Thai police to pass the border illegally,” she said.
The $0.25 day passes are
no more than flimsy slips of pa-per with no information about
their bearer. A Thai immigration official said that a proposal was submitted for a new computer system that would allow authorities to store identification information about pass holders.
“Most ladies from Cambodia come this way,” the official said, nodding toward the stream of people passing by his immigration office. Where they ended up after the Long Keur border market, he did not know.
Earlier this month Chanthol Oung, director of the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center, said at least 9,000 Cambodians were smuggled to work as laborers in Thailand each year. Among them were women and children who wound up being forced to work as beggars or prostitutes.
In early March, anti-human trafficking police arrested Poipet resident Sorn Sim on suspicion of smuggling 16 people who told police they each paid Sorn Sim 100 baht (about $2.50) to take them across the border into Thailand, a small leg of the smuggling route to Bangkok and other centers on the human trafficking map.
According to court documents, Sorn Sim confessed to having smuggled people before. He said that he paid police on both sides of the border 35 baht for each illegal crossing.
In a court document, signed by Investigating Judge Nov Yaroth, Sorn Sim was released from jail, because he was “not a smuggler but a victim” who was merely acting as a middleman.
Nov Yaroth did not return repeated calls for comment Sunday and Monday.
“Human trafficking can decrease if the courts and police are working closely and are willing to work together,” Chuon Vath said.
“Unfortunately, court officials always release criminals or smugglers from jail,” she said.