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Thousands of Cambodian Workers Flee Thailand

Officials in Phnom Penh say thousands of Cambodian workers have fled Thailand since the military coup in Bangkok, and more people are crossing the border every day.

Workers are crossing over mostly via the border town of Poipet in Banteay Meanchey province. Cambodian officials say some have been forced out while others are fleeing.

Government officials put the number of workers who have left the country at 20,000, but human rights groups say the number could be double that.

Sum Chankea, a coordinator for the rights group ADHOC, says in an interview with VOA's Khmer service that many of those returning were mistreated in Thailand.

“They sent most of them on June 9, 10, 11 and 12. We interviewed some of them yesterday. We found that there are middle people who took money from them. Then military did the same and physically abused them as well," said Chankea.

Kong Veasna, who worked in a Thai plastics factory for three years, says the coup is not the only reason he returned home.

“At home I couldn’t earn anything and was in debt. I decided to be a worker in Thailand so that I could pay my debts. The Thai bosses physically abused us. We then we decided to come back home. That’s it," said Veasna.

Cambodian authorities are working with the International Organization for Migration to help workers once they get across the border.

Kor Sumsaroeun, governor of Banteay Meanchey, said the workers are being given assistance as they cross the border.

“First, we gave each of them a pack of cooked rice and a bottle of water when they arrived. We also provided them with healthcare service. Second, transportation. We got 30 trucks from OM [Operation World], five trucks from National Police Commissioner, 10 trucks from Engineering Department and five trucks Immigration Police General Department," said Sumsaroeun.

Bangkok has also been cracking down on migrant workers from Myanmar, also known as Burma. Workers say Thai security forces have shut down illegal crossing points along that border, stranding many who cross back and forth for work.

Traditionally, Thailand has been a tempting place for Cambodians to work, especially the rural poor. An estimated 400,000 Cambodians work in Thailand, legally or not, while those from Myanmar are believed to number more than one million. A Thai spokesman recently said illegal workers represent a “threat” to Thailand.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Khmer service.