Exodus From Thailand Claims Six Cambodians

Six Cambodians died and several more were injured in two traffic accidents inside Thailand over the weekend as tens of thousands of migrant workers continued to stream back to Cambodia in the wake of a clampdown on illegal laborers by the Thai Army.

The six were being transported back to Cambodia by the Thai Army when their truck burst a tire and overturned in Chachoengsao province, killing them and the Thai driver, according to Kirth Bunleap, chief of staff for the Poipet checkpoint immigration police.

“We only got the news, but their bodies have not yet arrived at Poipet,” he said.

Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said the accident occurred at about 1 a.m. Sunday and that the dead included five men and a woman.

He said another 13 Cambodians were injured in the accident.

“Our council people [in Thailand] went there, to the area, and now they look after the wounded,” Mr. Kuong said. The dead and wounded were being sent back to Cambodia, he added.

A Thai Army spokesman and Thailand’s ambassador to Cambodia, Pakdi Touchayoot, could not be reached for comment.

Poipet City governor Ngor Mengchruon said another six Cambodian migrant workers were injured when their truck also burst a tire and overturned in a separate accident Sunday close to the Thai-Cambodian border and were brought across the Poipet checkpoint at about 10:30 a.m.

Khe Pisith, a nurse at a Poipet health care center, said the six suffered mostly cuts to their faces and bodies and were sent to Banteay Meanchey provincial referral hospital for treatment.

Though both accidents occurred while the Cambodians were being forcibly deported or fleeing threats of arrest by the Thai military, which has been ruling the country under ever-stricter martial law since deposing the government there last month, the Foreign Affairs Ministry’s Mr. Kuong was wary of putting any blame on the Thai regime.

“I don’t know yet, because it is just a simple accident,” he said. “No one chase[d] them.”

Yet the migrant workers continue to come home in droves.

Mr. Mengchruon, the Poipet governor, said more than 117,000 Cambodians came across the local checkpoint from June 6 through to Saturday night. Almost 44,000 workers crossed the Poipet border checkpoint on Saturday alone, according to Mr. Bunleap of the immigration police.

San Khit, who heads the Cambodian Red Cross’ Banteay Meanchey office, said four of his staff and some 30 volunteers were at the Poipet checkpoint offering the returnees food to tide them over until they could find a way back to their home provinces.

Many more are likely to be on the way. The Thai and Cambodian governments estimate that anywhere from 160,000 to 200,000 Cambodians were working in Thailand illegally before the exodus began. Cambodian rights group Adhoc says the number is closer to 400,000.

They all left Cambodia looking for better jobs and higher wages. Now that they’re coming back, the government is scrambling to cope.

The Labor Ministry has been running ads in Khmer-language papers since Friday with phone numbers returnees can call to apply for new jobs and register for training programs.

Labor Ministry spokesman Heng Suor said 25 training programs were on offer in centers opening up across the country: everything from a one-week agriculture course to a four-month program in hair styling, all free of charge.

“No one has come yet, but we are waiting for them to come to get skills and to find work,” he said.

Mr. Suor said there were also some 50,000 jobs the country’s foreign investors have been asking the Labor Ministry to help them fill, jobs he hoped some of Cambodia’s returning migrant workers could transition into.

Lay Nhanh, 53, crossed the Poipet checkpoint Sunday after a year working construction jobs in Thailand earning about 250 baht (or about $7.70) a day to help support his wife and children back home in Battambang province.

Mr. Nhanh said he left in fear of rumors that illegal migrants were being arrested and was now planning to head home, where he hoped to tap into the Labor Ministry’s new recruitment drive.

“I would be very happy if they can give me 30,000 riel [about $7.50] a day. With that I can buy food and medicine,” he said.

“It will be very difficult for me if I get less than that.”

(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)

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