As many as 300 Cambodian workers were among more than 800 people arrested by Bangkok police in a roundup of migrant workers last week, according to information from a human rights group in the Thai capital.
The Human Rights and Development Foundation said Sunday the reported arrests follow an order from Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva creating a new center to arrest and prosecute “underground” workers.
At least a million people work in Thailand illegally, according to the HRDF. In January, Thai authorities gave undocumented workers until February 2012 to complete a new nationality verification process that would let them stay in the country legally. To qualify for the extension, however, workers had to request work permits or apply for the extension by the end of February this year.
Rights groups have complained that the scheme is unmanageable and wide open to abuse. And according to the HRDF’s latest figures, nearly 38,000 Cambodians missed the deadline and remain in Thailand.
According to an HRDF translation of Mr Abhisit’s June 2 order, the new center is charged with “protecting, suppressing, arresting and prosecuting alien workers who illegally entered the Kingdom of Thailand and are working underground.”
In a statement released Friday, the rights group worried that the premier’s order could lead to human rights violations.
“Experience shows migrant crackdowns lead to an increase in arrest, detention and extortion of migrants by corrupt government officials,” the statement reads. “This particular crackdown policy is premature, makes no sense economically and is unlikely to strengthen Thailand’s national security.”
A spokesman for the Thai Foreign Ministry was unavailable.
Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Cambodian Foreign Ministry, said yesterday he was not aware of either the reported arrest of Cambodian migrants or an order from the Thai prime minister for a crackdown on all illegal workers.
“I have not received such information,” he said.
Labor Ministry Secretary of State Oum Mean and Seng Sakada, director-general of the Ministry’s labor department, declined to comment.