Thailand Unrest Drives Migrant Workers Home

Hundreds of Cambodian migrant workers have been streaming back home across Banteay Meanchey Province’s Poipet checkpoint in recent days following a military coup in Thailand, where the army is holding an increasingly tight grip on daily life.

Cambodians from Battambang, Banteay Meanchey, Siem Reap, Prey Veng and Kompong Cham provinces who went to work on farms and construction projects in Thailand have started to return in the last two to three days, said Eng Leng Om, chief of Banteay Meanchey’s anti-human trafficking unit.

He said that each day hundreds passed through the checkpoint; either coming home of their own accord or being sent back by Thai authorities.

“About 200 to 300 workers are returning home every day,” Mr. Leng Om said. “There are so many cars coming in carrying workers and their things.”

He said the Cambodians coming home were giving different reasons for their return, but all pointed to a Thai army taking a tougher stand against migrant workers.

“Some workers panicked because of the current situation in Thailand, and some were arrested and sent back by soldiers in black uniforms,” he said. “Some of them said that their passports were torn apart when they showed them to soldiers.”

So An, 62, said her daughter, who has been working construction jobs in Thailand for more than three years, told her that workers in Thailand were panicking and on the run and that she wanted to come home, too.

“I talked to my daughter, and she said that some workers are afraid of being arrested, hiding in the jungle, and some even jump into the sewer to escape from authorities,” she said.

Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said ministry officials met with their Thai counterparts in Bangkok over the weekend and, because of the martial law in place there, asked Thailand to send back any illegal Cambodian workers they found.

“We asked that they understand and send the illegal workers back,” he said. “Mostly the people arrested are illegal workers, based on the information I have.”

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