Migrants in Thailand Could Face Deportation

There are nearly 700,000 registered Cambodian migrants currently working in Thailand, but thousands of them could face deportation after their temporary work permits expire in March, according to a group that monitors migration in the region.

The Mekong Migration Network (MMN) released a fact-finding report Tuesday that reviewed the exodus of Cambodian migrant workers from Thailand in June.

Following a May coup in Thailand, some 225,000 Cambodian migrants fled the country, fearful of a new military government intent on eradicating illegal migrant labor. Since then, many of the workers have returned to Thailand through both official and unofficial channels, said Reiko Harima, regional coordinator for MMN.

“The [Thai] government is quite aware that local workers don’t want to work in many industries,” Ms. Harima said. “The working conditions are so dangerous and so bad, and no one in those industries receives minimum wages.”

Since the exodus, the Thai government has set up “one-stop service centers” that issue temporary work permits for migrant laborers.

On November 6, there were about 680,000 registered Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand, according to the Thai Labor Ministry.

The work permits, however, are only good for 60 days or until migrants enroll in Thailand’s nationality verification process, Ms. Harima said. But all of the temporary work permits are set to expire on March 31, 2015, she added.

Omsin Boonlert, MMN’s research and advocacy officer in Thailand, said that if the Thai government does not extend these work permits, another exodus of Cambodian workers will occur.

“The exodus will happen if the government does not think in the long term and understand the context of migrants in the country,” Ms. Omsin said.

Chou Bun Eng, a secretary of state at the Interior Ministry, said Cambodian authorities were ultimately at the mercy of their more powerful neighbor.

“The Cambodian government just runs behind the decisions of the government of Thailand,” she said.

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