LINES OF THOUGHT ACROSS SOUTHEAST ASIA

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Trouble at the border

More than 100,000 Cambodian migrant workers have fled Thailand, apparently due to fears of a crackdown on illegal foreign labourers by the ruling military junta. The border town of Poipet was inundated with returning workers, with an estimated 45,000 crossing back into their home country on one day alone.

June 8, 2014

More than 100,000 Cambodian migrant workers have fled Thailand, apparently due to fears of a crackdown on illegal foreign labourers by the ruling military junta.
The border town of Poipet was inundated with returning workers, with an estimated 45,000 crossing back into their home country on one day alone.

cambodia thailand migrant workers
Heavy flow: Cambodian migrant workers carry their belongings as they walk to cross the border at Aranyaprathet. Photo: Reuters / Athit Perawongmetha

 
“They are returning en masse like a dam collapsing. They have never come en masse like this before in our history,” Kor Samsarouet, the governor of Cambodia’s northwestern Banteay Meanchey province, told AFP.
“They said they are scared of being arrested or shot if they run when Thai authorities check their houses.”
The border rush turned deadly when six Cambodians and their driver died in a car crash while en route to the border. A number of other passengers in the truck were injured and transported to the Cambodian-Soviet Hospital in Banteay Meanchey.
Thailand is home to about 2.2 million migrant workers, roughly 1.8 million of whom have entered the country illegally. There are fears that the Cambodian exodus could trigger panic among Myanmar workers – by far the largest group of migrant labourers in Thailand.
If a large proportion of the country’s 1.74 million Myanmar workers fled, the effects on Thailand’s economy could be catastrophic. There have already been reports in Thai news outlets that businesses could be short-staffed if the departures continue.
The situation could strain relations between the two countries, while the effects on the Cambodian economy, which benefits from the workers’ remittances, are likely to be felt in the coming months.
The heavy flow of at-risk, unemployed migrants into Cambodia requires a long-term reintegration plan according to rights groups, with some even predicting an economic crisis.
“These people are in complete shock and don’t have the means to transition back into society or the workforce,” Ou Virak, chairman of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, told the Phnom Penh Post.
“This will have a negative effect on the economies of both countries. It’s going to be a significant problem if something isn’t done.”
 
Published in the July issue of Southeast Asia Globe



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