Return of Workers From Thailand Reaches 180,000

Officials along the Thai border said Wednesday that some 180,000 Cambodians have now returned home since the start of a mass exodus of migrant workers from Thailand last week, but noted that the pace of crossings has slowed substantially.

Most returnees are saying they fled their jobs in Thailand amid rampant rumors that they were being targeted for arrest by the Thai Army, which began rounding up illegal migrants after overthrowing the government in Bangkok last month and declaring martial law.

“Until now there have been more than 180,000 migrant workers deported by the Thai junta across the Poipet international checkpoint since it started on June 6,” said Banteay Meanchey provincial governor Kousoum Saroeuth.

The crossings seemed to have peaked on Sunday, when more than 40,000 Cambodians left Thailand through the Poipet checkpoint.

According to a combination of government, rights group and witness accounts, at least 10 Cambodians have reportedly died—mostly in traffic accidents—since Sunday amid the roundups and efforts to return home.

Sem Makara, deputy chief of staff at the Poipet checkpoint, said seven of the bodies have now been repatriated.

According to rights group Adhoc, they include the bodies of one man and two women who died after the van they had hired to take them home blew a tire in Chonburi province and rolled over.

Muon Phiey, who was slightly injured in the accident, said the van was approaching a roadblock manned by Thai troops when one of the soldiers fired into the air to make the van stop. She said the Thai driver instead turned the van abruptly around and was speeding away from the roadblock when a tire blew out and the van rolled.

“Me and his [the driver’s] wife pleaded with him to stop, but the driver didn’t and then we turned over,” she said Wednesday by telephone from her home in Banteay Meanchey province.

She said one man died at the scene and the two women died from their injuries after being taken by ambulance to a Thai hospital.

Ms. Phiey said her husband and some of the other passengers injured in the accident were still in Thailand recovering.

“I appeal to the Cambodian Embassy to help send him back to Cambodia, because he is wounded and he has not yet recovered,” she said.

Soum Chankea, an Adhoc monitor based in Banteay Meanchey, said the NGO was sending a team into Thailand to investigate the case.

Six Cambodians died in a separate accident when their van also blew a tire while heading toward the border and rolled over.

The Thai junta has admitted to clamping down on workers who are in the country illegally but denied having any policy to drive Cambodian migrants out of Thailand.

After a meeting in Bangkok on Tuesday between the Thai foreign minister and Cambodia’s ambassador to Thailand, the Thai government said it was welcoming Cambodia’s migrant workers back, so long as they had the proper paperwork, according to reports in Thai media.

Despite the fears that made them flee, returning workers say they hope to head back to Thailand—where they can find more work at better wages—as soon as possible.

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