Number of Cambodian migrants fleeing Thailand hits 180,000

By Kate Bartlett, Wednesday, June 18, 2014

PHNOM PENH - The number of Cambodian migrants who have left Thailand fearing a "crackdown" by the new military junta has risen to 180,000, the International Organization for Migration said Wednesday.

Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has denied any such ordering, despite the junta announcing June 11 that all illegal migrant workers “will be arrested and deported.” 

It appears that the original announcement may have been a tremendous miscalculation, in that the junta did not expect it to provoke such an exodus. The relationship between Thailand and Cambodia has also not been helped by stories suggesting that the Thai police have been exploiting the situation by arresting and extorting money from returning Cambodian workers. In the past week, there have been numerous reports of arrests of workers by local police officers.

The Cambodian government had remained quiet on the issue until yesterday, saying only that they hoped the junta would treat the migrants “humanely.” At a meeting Tuesday both sides had reportedly agreed to quash "rumor" of a crackdown.

But it appeared to raise the ante Wednesday, with The Phnom Penh Post quoting Interior Minister Sar Kheng as saying: “I think the current Thai junta leader must be responsible for the problems happening, including the loss of lives.”

Eight Cambodians have died in Thailand in vehicle crashes in the rush to get home.

“Thai authorities have arrested and deported Cambodian migrant workers in a rush and have not paid attention to the safety and well-being of Cambodian migrant laborers,” he had also said earlier in the week.

In a clear illustration of the confusion surrounding the issue, a Thai police chief told local media “the junta does not have a policy to crackdown on illegal migrants right now”, adding in the same breath “but if we find them, we will have to deport them.”

The mass exodus of people caused chaos at the Cambodian border initially, rights workers told the AA — with people having nowhere to sleep and no means of transport home — but the situation had since improved due to coordination between charities and the government - which has sent hundreds of trucks to take people to their provinces.

“It’s calmed down a lot,” IOM staffer Brett Dickson said Wednesday, though people are still coming through.

At Bangkok central railway station, Cambodian laborer Bou Samroen, 21, with his suitcase sat next to him, said he was going home. 

“I was working on a construction site for 9,000 baht (US$280) a month, but I don’t have any documentation. I am afraid the military will arrest me, and that is why I am going back to Battambang province, in Cambodia,” he told the AA.

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