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Challenges, Opportunities in Cambodian Worker Exodus from Thailand


Cambodian migrants look through grills of a truck as they wait to cross the Thai-Cambodia border at Aranyaprathet in Sa Kaew June 15, 2014

Cambodian migrants look through grills of a truck as they wait to cross the Thai-Cambodia border at Aranyaprathet in Sa Kaew June 15, 2014

Cambodian workers are streaming home from Thailand by the tens of thousands, prompting a situation that observers say will create problems as well as opportunities in their home country.

Reports of a Thai crackdown on illegal workers, as well as rumors of violence, have caused hundreds of Cambodians to cross back over the border every day since shortly after the May 22 coup in Bangkok. Although the reports are denied by Thai authorities, the stream of workers continues back across the border.

Joe Lowry, a regional spokesman for the International Organization for Migration, told VOA's Khmer service by phone from Bangkok that a major migration of people back to their impoverished villages can raise problems, ranging from employment to housing to medical care.

“I think it will be difficult for their communities to cope with a large number of people coming suddenly because they are coming from some of the less-developed towns and villages. They left because they could not find a job … They will need housing, they will need food, they will need medical care, they will need school and other social services. So it would be difficult for them to be reintegrated,” said Lowry.

But some, such as economist Chan Sophal, say the returning workers could mean a chance for economic development if handled properly.

“The government should speed up their reform to enable a better investment environment for either foreigners or Cambodians and make sure that it’s easy for investors so that they have confidence, because right now we have returning workers who have brought back skills and experiences that can help boost local development,” said Sophal.

An estimated 440,000 Cambodians were working in Thailand, many of them illegally, according to government statistics. More than 150,000 people are believed to have returned to Cambodia so far.

Heng Sour, a spokesman for the Ministry of Labor, said retaining those who return can be done. He said the government has decided to set up nearly 40 vocational training programs in an effort to keep the returning workers home

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