A Thai bus and a truck carrying Cambodian migrant workers leaving Thailand arrive at the border in Poipet, Cambodia earlier this month. Pic: AP.

A reported 220,000 Cambodian workers fled Thailand in recent weeks, but the Thai government has moved to assure workers it is not cracking down on them, and has appealed to Cambodia to set up border offices where migrant workers can receive legal documents to work in the Kingdom. Rumors of a crackdown caused a swift exodus among Cambodian workers, but the Thai military junta has insisted no crackdown is underway.

Thai PBS reported that a “one-stop service office” will open in Poipet in July, where migrant workers can obtain valid work permits for Thailand. If all goes well, additional offices will be opened in Koh Kong and Pailin, said Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training director-general Seng Sakada. Thai PBS noted that an estimated 400,000-500,000 Cambodians, both documented and undocumented, work in Thailand each year.

Despite people fleeing by the tens of thousands, the junta insists that Cambodian workers are not being targeted. CNN reported that the government “has encouraged undocumented workers in the country to ‘seek employment through proper channels’.” The site also noted that the junta indicated plans to distribute leaflets outlining Thailand’s policy in Burmese, Laotian, and Khmer.

The Democratic Voice of Burma reported in mid-June that Thai security police raided a Burmese neighborhood in Chiang Mai, detaining an undetermined number of people. The police announced via loudspeaker that residents should come out of their homes with their identification cards, according to DVB. The Myanmar Times reported that conflicting information was coming out of Mae Sot, a border town between Thailand and Burma. That publication quoted U Moe Gyo, chair of the Joint Action Committee for Burmese Affairs, as saying, “Thai authorities had admitted that security forces had carried out several raids on migrant communities in Mae Sot over the past month, arresting about 300 undocumented workers.” But U Moe Gyo says the number is actually closer to 1,000, according to the Myanmar Times. Workers seeking medical treatment at Mae Sot’s Mae Tao Clinic must now show a clinic certificate and a temporary work visa in order to be treated, Myanmar Times reported. In the past, only a certificate was necessary, and the clinic provides low-cost health care for both documented and undocumented workers.

Whatever the reality of the situation, it appears an emphasis on migrant workers having documentation is part of the Thai junta’s plan to “restore happiness” to the country following the May coup. Last week, Thailand was downgraded to Tier 3 on the U.S.’ Trafficking in Persons report, largely due to exploitation and lack of protection for migrant workers. The junta indicated that the recent focus on undocumented workers and illegal labor was an effort to address the country’s track record on trafficking and exploitation.

Bloomberg quoted military spokesman Winthai Suvaree as saying, “The NCPO has no policy to crack down on foreign workers. This problem has been accumulating for 10 years,” and the junta “will adhere to human rights and international principles’ in dealing with undocumented workers.”