The body of a Cambodian man who died when he jumped off a fishing boat in Thailand to evade arrest amid a clampdown on illegal migrants was returned to Cambodia through the Cham Yeam international checkpoint in Koh Kong province on Monday.
It brings to at least nine the number of Cambodian migrant workers who have died in Thailand since Sunday as the Thai Army applies pressure on illegal laborers and the companies hiring them in the wake of its overthrow of the Thai government last month.
The Thai Army has denied making any efforts to drive Cambodians out. But according to the Cambodian government’s official count, more than 150,000 nationals have streamed back home since late last week, more than in a typical year.
Cham Yeam checkpoint administration chief Dom Saran said Em Im, 39, and five fellow Cambodians working illegally on a Thai fishing boat jumped overboard on Friday hoping to evade arrest by Thai police. He said the news came from a Thai police report that accompanied Em Im’s body across the border on Monday evening.
Mr. Saran explained that the report claimed that Em Im drowned but did not explain why, and added that the other five were still being detained in Thailand.
“Em Im died from jumping into the water because he was scared of arrest by Thai police, as he went to work in Thailand illegally,” he said.
He added that local authorities cremated Em Im’s body at the request of his wife, who lives in Kompong Cham province and told them she could not afford to pay for the ceremony on her own.
While the Poipet checkpoint to the north has borne the brunt of the recent exodus out of Thailand, hundreds—possibly thousands—of Cambodians have been coming through Cham Yeam.
Mr. Saran did not know how many have returned across the checkpoint since the exodus began last week, but said at least 1,300 had crossed over between Sunday and Tuesday morning.
Neang Boratino, Koh Kong provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, put the total from Saturday through Tuesday at a far higher 1,500, and estimated that about 15 percent were fishermen.
He said the Cham Yeam checkpoint on a normal day sees about 50 Cambodian workers crossing either way.
“Some of them, they say they saw the Thai military or Thai police asking people to get on trucks and sending them back to the border,” he said. “Some said they only heard rumors that the Thai Army would arrest them, so they came back on their own will.”
As in Poipet, he said local authorities were providing the returnees with food and temporary shelter and helping them make it back to their home provinces.