Thailand Undecided Over Fate Of Cambodian Migrant Workers

Thailand has still not decided what will happen to the 738,000 Cambodian migrant workers currently living in the country on temporary work permits when those documents expire at the end of March, an official from the Thai Labor Ministry said Wednesday.

The Cambodian and Thai labor ministries met Wednesday at Phnom Penh’s InterContinental Hotel to discuss updating a 2003 memorandum of understanding (MoU) on migrant workers.

Speaking to reporters after the closed-door meeting, Winai Luewirojn, the deputy permanent secretary of Thailand’s Labor Ministry, said there were about 738,000 Cambodian workers on temporary work permits, which are set to expire on March 31.

Mr. Luewirojn said he did not know if the workers would be deported once the documents expire.

“We have to wait for the policy of the government,” he said.

Mr. Luewirojn said an additional 107,000 Cambodian workers in Thailand have completed the nationality verification process and are waiting to receive two-year work permits. He added that there are another 87,000 Cambodian migrant workers who came to the country under the MoU and have full working papers and visas.

The 2003 MoU says Cambodian workers are allowed to work for four years in Thailand, when they are then required to leave for four years before they can return.

Omsin Boonlert, an advocacy officer for the Mekong Migration Network, which monitors labor migration in the region, said she does not think Thailand would deport the Cambodian workers.

“I don’t think there will be a mass deportation,” she said. “I think they will reconsider the policy.”

In June last year—a month after the Thai Army overthrew the country’s democratically elected government—some 225,000 Cambodians fled Thailand fearing the new military junta was intent on arresting illegal migrant workers.

“Both sides are aware of the situation about what happened last year and in my opinion they won’t let it happen again,” Ms. Boonlert said.

(Additional reporting by Chris Mueller)

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