Thai authorities are making good on their promise to crack down on illegal immigrants as each day they are sending thousands of migrant workers back to Cambodia and Vietnam, RFA has learned.
Sim Namm Yung, a provincial official in Cambodia’s Banteay Meanchey province, told RFA on Thursday that Thailand deported more than 4,000 Cambodian workers back to their homeland in August alone.
At least 300 Cambodians are being sent back home each day, Sim Namm Yung told RFA.
“They are from different parts of Cambodia,” she said. “Some went to Thailand by themselves to look for a job, but some were illegally cheated by the brokers.”
While Sim Namm Yung said most of the Cambodians worked in construction and resided in Thailand from three months to a year, some of them were also recently released from jail.
“Most of those who were in jail and were sent back home mostly to the Sras Keo province (Sakaeo in Thai),” she said.
Sum Chankea, an official with the Cambodian human rights organization ADHOC, told RFA that the repatriated Cambodians were packed “like pigs” into vans with metal bars over the windows.
After arriving at the Poipet International Checkpoint in Banteay Meanchey province the Cambodian authorities “educate” them about the illegal immigration for about 15 to 20 minutes, before allowing them to return to their home villages.
“Cambodian authorities in charge of workers along the border seem to pay no attention to the problem,” Sum Chankea said. “The authorities also are not making any attempts to arrest and punished the brokers who have taken workers to Thailand illegally.”
Human traffickers charge Cambodians as much as U.S. $100 per person to illegally transport them across the border in the northwestern part of the country, human rights groups told RFA in April.
Workers, who do not have passports, pay 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, Sum Chankea told RFA at the time.
“Workers have traveled to Thailand like ants,” Sum Chankea said in April.
Vietnamese are also sent home
Cambodia is not the only country that is suddenly seeing an influx in repatriations as the Thai government is also sending people back to Vietnam.
Most of the Vietnamese appear to be street vendors who set up business in Thailand under a memorandum of understanding reached in 2015 allowing Vietnamese to work in Thailand.
While the MOU allows Vietnamese to work in Thailand, it restricts their employment to serving as manual laborers or service providers.
A vendor in Rangsit district in Thailand’s Pathum Thani province told RFA the government’s crackdown has convinced him to go back to Vietnam
“I have been here for five or six or years, and I know that I could be jailed anytime,” he said. “So, I am thinking about going back home. I told my fellow vendors in Rangsit that we should not go out too much because we might get picked up.”
Thailand’s immigration problem spans decades if not centuries as the country is an important destination for migrant workers and asylum seekers from across the Greater Mekong Delta region as well other parts of Asia.
Speaking via video conference on Sept. 9, Thai immigration chief Nathathorn Phrosunthorn announced a nationwide crackdown designed to flush out foreigners, Thaivisa.com reported.
The job debate
According to the report, he singled out immigrants who are taking Thai jobs in the restaurant business and selling wares on the move.
The country has been criticized for its treatment of migrant workers who are often at the mercy of unscrupulous employers and labor brokers.
“Thailand is a source, destination, and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking,” the U.S. State Department wrote in its 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report.
While migrant workers are at risk, they are still drawn to the country as Thailand is a wealthy nation compared to its neighbors.
Thailand’s economy grew at an average annual rate of 7.5 percent in the late 1980s and early 1990s, creating millions of jobs that helped pull millions of people out of poverty, according to the World Bank.
That growth has slowed in recent years, with the World Bank reporting a modest 2.8 percent increase in 2015 after a sluggish 0.9 percent in 2014. The outlook for 2016 is for 2.5 percent growth.
According to the Office of the Social and Economic Development Board, workers from Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, China and ethnic minorities from Southeast Asian countries, have cut into businesses reserved for Thais.
‘Search and arrest’
“The way to solve these problems is search and arrest,” Arak Prommanee, director-general of the Department of Employment, told BenarNews. “Vendor and retail selling jobs are reserved for Thais.”
The junta that took power in 2014 from a civilian government widely perceived as being corrupt, issued a pair of executive orders to “clean up” the illegal migrant workers in the capital and nationwide in 2015 and 2016, he said.
Arak described three types of offenders: illegal migrants, documented workers who have jobs for which they are not approved and immigrants who overstay their visas.
But employment issues aren’t the only reason the Thais are deporting immigrant workers, Arak said.
“We started tackling the issue when we learnt from news reports that there are illegal workers selling products, which are fake or are contaminated,” Arak told BenarNews.
In May, Police in Muak Lek district of Sara Buri that lies about 100 miles north of Bangkok arrested a Vietnamese couple for selling artificial orange juice mixed with dirty water after a photo and story about them was shared on social media and reported in the local newspapers.
“This group of workers came here to sell all sorts of snacks like meat balls, fruit juices and pickled fruits,” he said. “That made us aware of how we need to ensure hygiene and food safety for consumers.”
Reported and translated by RFA's Khmer and Vietnamese Services. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.