Threat to Cambodians in Thailand Downplayed

As thousands of Cambodian workers continued to pour across the border from Thailand on Wednesday, the Foreign Affairs Ministry released a statement downplaying the mass return and said it was a “rumor” that the junta had chased or shot illegal migrant workers.

“Previously, even before Thai­land was controlled by the junta, Thai authorities also sent illegal Cambo­dian workers back to Cam­­bo­dia,” the ministry said in the statement.

The statement provides lower figures of returnees than local officials have in recent days, saying that 7,507 workers returned be­tween June 1 and Monday. Others had put the figure above 10,000.

As photos continue to surface online of Cambodians being crammed onto trucks by Thai soldiers, officials met on Tuesday with the Thai ambassador to lodge a complaint, the statement notes.

“At that meeting, [secretary of state] Ung Sean asked the Thai party to carry out the sending of Cambodian workers who work il­legally in Thailand back to Cam­bodia in a humanitarian way, and not to squeeze them on to iron-netted trucks,” it says.

Border police officials on Tues­day had said that more than 6,500 migrant workers a day had passed through the Poipet international checkpoint on Monday and Tuesday.

Khiet Bunleap, chief of staff for the Poipet immigration police, said exact figures for Wednesday were not yet available. But Mr. Bunleap said more than 50 trucks of workers had arrived Wednesday, compared with 71 trucks on Tuesday and 43 on Monday.

“It’s the first time our immigration police have met them like this,” he said. Hundreds more have entered checkpoints strung along the border, other officials said. At the O’Smach checkpoint, 723 workers were sent back Wednesday, said commune chief Phan Sam Ath.

Another 217 arrived at the Prum checkpoint in Pailin province.

“It’s the first day that migrant workers were sent back [here] by Thai soldiers. Others are scared that Thai soldiers will seek to arrest them,” said Colonel Oum Kakrona, border checkpoint police chief.

The International Organization for Migration said Wednesday that the influx of people had overwhelmed border authorities.

“Many are effectively stranded, with no money to pay for onward transport to reunite with their families,” the organization wrote in a statement. “IOM Cambodia has sent three buses to help transport the returnees, but is concerned that flows have suddenly increased over recent days, placing a strain on services.”

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