Seventeen laborers from Cambodia have returned home after they were trafficked to work in Thailand’s logging industry and had their pay withheld, forcing them to walk back to the border, a rights group said Wednesday.
The 17 had been lured into Thailand with promises of well-paying jobs, but ended up cutting timber in Chonburi province, Sum Chankea of Cambodian rights group Adhoc told RFA’s Khmer Service.
“They walked several hundred kilometers (one kilometer = three-fifths of a mile) because they didn’t have any money for transportation,” said Sum Chankea, who is provincial coordinator for Adhoc in Banteay Meanchey province, where the 17 crossed over the border from Thailand.
After arriving at the border checkpoint to reenter Cambodia, they were detained by local police and forced to sign pledges that they would not return to Thailand illegally, he said.
The seat of Chonburi province is at least 200 kilometers (125 miles) by car to the Poipet—the main border town in Banteay Meanchey province.
Border police chief So Channary confirmed that the laborers walked from Thailand until they encountered Cambodian border officers, saying that they had become lost along the way.
But he denied that any of the 17 had been trafficked and claimed they had “volunteered to work illegally” in a sugarcane plantation in Thailand.
“We don’t know what caused them to return,” he said, adding, “many people cross the border to work in Thailand.”
In June, some 180,000 Cambodians returned home from Thailand amid a crackdown on illegal labor by the military junta in Bangkok, which took power in a May 22 coup. There are estimated to be upward of 200,000 Cambodians working in Thailand, most illegally.
Repatriation of victims
Also on Wednesday, Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement saying that the country’s embassy in China’s capital Beijing had cooperated with Chinese police to rescue five Cambodian women who had been trafficked as brides.
The women were initially trafficked to Vietnam and then sold into marriage with men in China, some of who are deaf and others who suffer from mental illnesses, the statement said, adding that the victims also endured torture during their ordeal.
The five women will be repatriated and are expected to arrive in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh on Thursday.
Four Cambodian laborers—two of them minors—and two Cambodian maids were scheduled to be repatriated Tuesday from Malaysia, according to a report by The Phnom Penh Post.
All six had been cheated by brokers into traveling to Malaysia in February, but had been housed by the Cambodian Embassy since Aug. 19, the report said, citing Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The maids were lured to Malaysia in spite of a standing 2011 moratorium forbidding the recruitment of Cambodian maids there, which was passed after numerous reports of abuses.
A new memorandum of understanding—including stricter protections on workers’ rights—that would lift the ban on recruiting Cambodian maids to Malaysia has been stalled for months.
Reported by Hum Chamreoun for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.