Cambodians Travel en Masse to Thailand in Search of Jobs

2016-04-26
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Cambodian migrant workers rest near the Thai border in northwestern Cambodia's Banteay Meanchey province, April 2016.
Cambodian migrant workers rest near the Thai border in northwestern Cambodia's Banteay Meanchey province, April 2016.
RFA

Thousands of Cambodian migrant workers have paid traffickers up to U.S. $100 per person to illegally transport them across the border in the northwestern part of the country during the last 10 days to find better work opportunities in Thailand, human rights groups said.

The workers, who do not have passports, have paid traffickers 300,000 to 400,000 riel (U.S. $75 to U.S. $100) each to help them cross over the border in Banteay Meanchey and Battambang provinces after the Khmer New Year on April 17, said Sum Chankea, the Banteay Meanchey provincial coordinator for the domestic rights group Adhoc.

At least 500 Cambodians are crossing from Banteay Meanchey province into Thailand daily, but local authorities are not trying to stop them, even though they are at risk in Thailand as illegal workers, he told RFA’s Khmer Service.

“Workers have traveled to Thailand like ants,” Sum Chankea said. “I appeal to authorities to stop them from traveling to Thailand because they are at risk.”

Even though many Cambodians are increasingly seeking work abroad, they are at risk of physical abuse by employers, harsh work conditions and expulsion from Thailand. The Cambodian government has urged them to migrate legally to ensure they are protected by both countries’ laws.

‘We stop them right away’

A military official who works in the region that covers Banteay Meanchey and Battambang provinces, who declined to be named, denied that local authorities are doing nothing to stop the outflow of Cambodians.

The military work day and night to prevent workers crossing the border illegally because Thai authorities can imprison them or they can be killed, he said.

“We have constantly patrolled the border,” he said. “If we see people who want to cross the border, we stop them right away.”

On April 21, the Cambodian government agreed to a request from the Thai labor ministry to temporarily stop migrant workers from traveling to the country during the next four month so it can conduct a census of migrants, The Cambodia Daily reported.

Cambodia’s labor ministry has stopped issuing documents to citizens who plan to go to Thailand to work until July 29, the report said.

Cambodians already working illegally in Thailand would have to request a permission letter from Thai labor officials to leave the country during the census, the report said, citing Heng Sour, spokesman for Cambodia’s labor ministry.

‘Like a broken dam’

But the efforts have yet to stem the flow of Cambodians to Thailand.

One Cambodian migrant worker, Ny Sanet, told RFA’s Khmer Service during a break on her trek to Thailand that she was waiting for traffickers to escort her over the border at the crossing in Banteay Meanchey province.

Some other Cambodians had waited at the border for a week before they could cross illegally and enter Thailand, she said.

“I asked them why they were waiting here, and they said they were waiting for traffickers,” she said. “Those who hired traffickers to take them across the border do not have passports.”

Prack Thon, a motor taxi driver, said at least 3,000 people have crossed the border illegally via Battambang province after buying a border pass for 10,000 to 20,000 riel (U.S. $2.50 to U.S. $5) in Cambodia and then paying traffickers to take them to the Thai capital Bangkok.

“People were travelling to Thailand just like a dam was broken,” he said. “They were transported here by cars and trucks.”

Caram Cambodia, an NGO that assists migrant workers and their families, estimates that at least one million Cambodians worked illegally in Thailand last year.

Reported by Hum Hour for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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