Minister Warns of Poor Checks at Thai Border

Labor Minister Ith Sam Heng said Monday that Thai border officials may be letting Cambodian migrant workers back into Thailand with incomplete paperwork, opening them up to the same risks both countries have been trying to avoid since a mass exodus of Cambodian workers over the past month.

More than 240,000 Cambodians fled Thailand in panic last month amid rumors that the Thai Army had started shooting and arresting illegal workers. The two countries have since been collaborating to streamline the process for those wanting to go back to Thailand legally.

On Monday, however, Mr. Sam Heng said unconfirmed reports from the border suggested Thailand was letting some Cambodian workers back without proper papers.

“I heard information that some of our Khmer migrant workers have been returning to Thailand without completed legal forms,” said Mr. Sam Heng, speaking to journalists after a meeting of the Labor Advisory Committee over the minimum wage in the garment sector.

“I think that what the Thai authorities are doing is leading to some people going across illegally,” he added. “We are verifying this in order to talk [with Thailand] again and adjust the system.”

Sun Sam Ath, immigration police chief at the Poipet international checkpoint in Banteay Meanchey province, which has been getting most of the traffic, said he could not confirm the reports because he did not know how the Thais were processing the migrants’ papers.

“It is kind of worrying,” he said. “But we don’t know what to do because we can’t really tell if [Cambodians] going across the border are businessmen, workers or tourists.”

Koh Kong provincial governor Bun Leut said he had not heard any reports of Cambodians crossing his stretch of border with Thailand with incomplete papers. Suos Sokdara, police chief at the Prum international checkpoint in Pailin province, said all crossings there were proceeding in compliance with the rules.

To encourage Cambodians to migrate legally, Cambodia and Thailand have both slashed the fees for the necessary paperwork. Last week, the Cambodian Labor Ministry negotiated a flat fee of $49 that Cambodian recruitment agencies will charge for the whole process of migrating to work in Thailand, including travel expenses.

On Monday, Mr. Sam Heng said he would be meeting with the recruitment agencies again to ask them to drop the fee altogether for those who cannot afford it.

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