Written by Andrea De Grazia
The number of Cambodian labourers leaving Thailand has increased to 220,000 on the 18th of June. They have started returning in Cambodia last June 6th. The data have been confirmed by Pich Vanna, chief of the Cambodia-Thai Border Relation Office.
The reason for the exodus is the implementation of stricter rules introduced by Thailand government with regards to illegal foreign workers. As confirmed by the Thai junta last week, the army could arrest and deport workers found without a legal work permit. Stories about Cambodians being killed have spread fast leading to increasing fear. This event could also be linked to the diplomatic relations between the two countries that have been historically enemies.
Cambodia’s ambassador and the Thailand foreign ministry have agreed during a meeting last week to stop the rumours of a crackdown. Also, the junta that has taken power last month has tried to solve this situation by trying to calm the panic. Cambodian Ambassador Eat Sophea has denied the shooting and abuse of Cambodian workers by Thai authorities as the main reason of the enormous exodus.
Last week, hundreds of military trucks have transported Cambodian workers back in their country. As stated by Cambodia’s Interior Minister Sar Kheng, the Thai Junta has not communicated with the Cambodian Government regarding their intent to force repatriation. Furthermore, Thailand must be held responsible as eight people have died in traffic accidents while rushing to cross the border.
Thai officials continue to insist that they have not forced repatriation of Cambodians and military transportations are being used for people being laid off because of working illegally. They have also declared that the migrants were leaving the country voluntarily and was just being helped by Thai military with transportation.
This is the largest exodus in Thailand and Cambodia border that could represent the whole illegal Cambodian population in Thailand. It is estimated that more than 200,000 Cambodians work in Thailand and most of them are illegal.
Thailand has attracted many workers from neighbouring countries, and the Thai foreign ministry have underpinned how important foreign labour is for its economy. High number of Cambodian migrants have contributed last year to the growth of Thai economy, which ranks second in ASEAN.
On the border trade at Rong Klues market in Sa Kaeo, businesses have not yet been affected by the exodus as the workers there work legally.
Differently, the agriculture sector has been affected and businesses relying on Cambodian workers have registered a massive slowdown.
Cambodians work in different labour industries such as agriculture, fishing, construction industry and domestic work. Thai businesses rely on low cost migrant labour.
This could damage Thai economy as many factories on Thai-Cambodian border have decreased the production after 30 percent of workers have left. The Thai army did not consider consequences of warning illegal migrants.
The Cambodian government is concerned about the huge influx of people in the country during the last three weeks.
Cambodia’s migrants are now encouraged to stay and work in Cambodia as a way to boost their economy that lacks in labour market as declared by Interior Minister Sad Kheng. The Cambodian government has set training centres for its workers. However most of them do not plan to attend it because it is unaffordable and would not assure a job with a salary as high as in Thailand. Most of the people will still opt to return to Thailand when the opportunity arise and the situation calms down.
–Edited by Kristine Diaz