Nearly 40,000 illegal Cambodian migrant workers have been deported from Thailand through Banteay Meanchey province’s Poipet international checkpoint since the beginning of the year, a border official said yesterday.
“39,279 people have been sent back to Cambodia so far this year,” said Lim Sothet, director of the province’s social affairs department.
Mr Sothet said that the figure was a decrease from the equivalent time period last year. He didn’t have data for the full 7-month period available, but during the first six months of 2010, 53,063 illegal workers were deported through the checkpoint.
Mr Sothet said he believed this year would see far fewer than last year’s 104,673 deportees. He attributed the improvement to an increase in farming jobs in Banteay Meanchey.
“They don’t go as much as before since they are busy with work here,” he said. “We have a lot of farms in the province right now…. They are busy doing agriculture. They don’t have time to go there.”
“People who were sent back are mostly those who came from other provinces,” he added. “They are not from here.”
Andy Hall, a migration consultant at the Bangkok-based Human Rights and Development Foundation, said: “There doesn’t seem to be any big attempt to crack down on illegal migrants…. At the end of the day, they’re workers in Thailand and there are jobs for them. They’re all working.”
Deportation statistics do not necessarily reflect the number of illegal workers in Thailand, Mr Hall said.
“A lot of arrest for deportation is in the form of arrest-extort-release rather than arrest-prosecute-extort,” explained Mr Hall. “It’s an issue of corruption, officials abusing power.” Cambodia doesn’t particularly need people coming back, he added.
“They’re sending a major amount of money home. And in Thailand, these workers form a major part of the economy,” he said.
According to Thai government statistics, about 275,000 Cambodians are working legally in Thailand.
(Additional reporting by Abby Seiff)
Others were more skeptical about the analysis.