News / Asia

Cambodians Continuing to Flee Thailand

Cambodian workers get off a train as they prepare to migrate back to Cambodia at Aranyaprathet train station in Sa Kaew, June 15, 2014.
Cambodian workers get off a train as they prepare to migrate back to Cambodia at Aranyaprathet train station in Sa Kaew, June 15, 2014.
— Aid organizations in Thailand say tens of thousands of Cambodian migrant workers and their children continue to arrive at a border checkpoint in Thailand. They are unconvinced by the Thai military government’s assurances they are not being targeted in a crackdown intended to rid the country of illegal migrants.
 
The International Organization for Migration and representatives of concerned non-governmental groups tell VOA News thousands of Cambodians are still converging on the Poipet border checkpoint.
 
The numbers for Wednesday are not as large as during the past weekend, but the turnout is “still enormous,” according to those monitoring the situation at the Thai-Cambodian border.
 
It is estimated that at least 200,000 Cambodians this month have fled home from Thailand.
 
Ten concerned organizations, including a Catholic legal aid society, the Migrant Working Group network in Thailand and the international NGO Save the Children have sent an appeal to the country’s military junta to stop suppressing migrant workers.
 
“Now Thai society, especially entrepreneurs, are suffering by the short-sighted policies that focus on national security and arrests and deportation. The immediate thing we want: the army to stop crackdowns and arrests and suppression of migrant workers,” said Roisai Wongsuban, an officer with the Migrant Working Group.
 
Roisai, speaking from Chiang Mai, said unknown parties are taking advantage of the situation there and in Mae Sot, which is on the Thai border with Myanmar, also known as Burma. 
 
“We received the report of persons who dressed like law enforcement and they came to the community and make an extortion situation like they might come to the community to arrest the people. And some people paid the money. And also it creates fear in the community,” said Roisai.
 
That has prompted some employers using undocumented workers to scale back business activities, including factory production.
 
While a substantial percentage -- perhaps the majority -- of Cambodians in Thailand have left the country, activists say those with citizenship from Myanmar have mostly gone into hiding, rather than cross the border.
 
There are an estimated two million workers from Myanmar in Thailand - an essential and cheap workforce for the construction industry and several other industries.
 
Advocates for the migrants met Tuesday with officers of the Royal Thai Army’s Fourth regional command at Mae Sot.
 
Roisai said the soldiers agreed to not target illegal workers there until there is further clarification from the junta leadership, but she remains concerned.
 
“We are talking about a nationwide situation. There are many law enforcement [agencies] besides the army. So, I think, that there is no guarantee that the army would respond to our recommendation,” said Roisai.
 
The junta on Tuesday issued two related decrees. One states there is “no policy as yet to crack down on migrant workers” despite widespread reports to the contrary. It did acknowledge requiring employers to submit, for review, lists of all their workers.
 
The second announcement states that any government officer found to be involved in human trafficking, in particular concerning migrant workers, “shall be punished through both disciplinary and criminal proceedings.”
 
Thailand’s treatment of foreign laborers is under much scrutiny.
 
The country this week faces being placed on the U.S. State Department blacklist of nations failing to adequately address trafficking of persons.
 
The Global Slavery Index (produced by the Australia-based Walk Free Foundation) considers Thailand a “hub of exploitation” with victims of slavery originating both from within and outside Thailand’s borders.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.

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