The Koh Kong provincial court charged two men with human trafficking Sunday after border police caught them attempting to smuggle 23 migrant workers into Thailand on Friday, court officials said.
Provincial border police stopped the smugglers and would-be workers trying to cross the border illegally and handed them off to human trafficking police, who questioned them over the weekend and sent them to court.
“We charged them already and now they are still being questioned by the investigating judge,” said Srey Makny, deputy provincial prosecutor.
If convicted, Uk Pich, 18, and Reth Rath, 25, face seven to 15 years in prison.
Sok Maly, provincial anti-human trafficking police chief, said each migrant worker paid the men $50 to be transported into Thailand to find jobs.
“The court is still questioning both ringleaders today and all workers will be brought back home tomorrow,” Mr. Maly said Sunday. “We did not arrest them [the workers] because they are victims.”
Mr. Maly said the $50 payments were returned to the workers and that police are now looking for two more ringleaders.
“The workers told us that they are from poor families and cannot read the Khmer language,” he said. “They followed those ringleaders with the hope to find good jobs in Thailand.”
In a separate case, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Saturday issued a notice saying that 13 migrant workers in Thailand approached the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok claiming they were cheated by a recruitment agency.
“Recently, 13 workers [8 men and 5 women] came to the Cambodia Embassy for intervention after they were abandoned by a partner of A.P.T.S.E & C (Cambodia) based in Thailand,” the statement says. “They said that they had paid money to a branch of APTSE & C (Cambodia) in Phnom Penh, from $350 to $550 each.”
The statement does not say when the workers paid the money to the recruitment agency or when they arrived in Thailand.
“The embassy helped find jobs for 11 Khmer workers [8 men and 3 women],” the statement continues. “Another two female workers decided to come back to Cambodia and A.P.T.S.E & C paid them back $100 each when they arrived Phnom Penh.”
APTSE & C was one of 50 recruitment agencies enlisted by the government in June to help workers obtain legal documentation to return to Thailand after about 250,000 Cambodians fled from the Thai junta earlier that month during a crackdown on illegal labor.
APTSE & C was also accused of duping 187 workers out of $260 each in August.
Seng Setthychey, the firm’s director, denied Sunday it had charged the 13 workers up to $550.
“Those workers lost their jobs by themselves and then called for intervention from the embassy and journalists, accusing our company of cheating them.”