Over 70,000 Cambodians leave Thailand. Why? UPDATE: Now, over 100,000
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Over 70,000 Cambodians leave Thailand. Why? UPDATE: Now, over 100,000

UPDATE: As of early this morning, it is up to 100,000:

BP: Think they mean left Thailand….

Original post below:

Below are some tweets from the International Organization for Migration Asia Pacific Twitter account or excerpts from articles tweeted by the IOM account in chronological order:

Myanmar Eleven on June 2:

The curfew in Thailand following last week’s coup has affected business owners and Myanmar migrant workers, according to a border-based rights group.

After the enforcement of curfew, Myanmar migrants in major cities such as Bangkok and Chiang Mai get paid the minimum daily wage of Bt300 without overtime.

“A worker earns Bt300 per day in Bangkok, a big city where living costs are high. Workers normally have to work between 10 to 12 hours to earn overtime pay. Now, they cannot work overtime so their income has been affected,” said Moe Gyo, chairman of Joint Committee for Movement of Myanmar Citizens’ Affairs.

The situation is worse in provinces. Although the minimum wage nationwide has been set at Bt300, Myanmar migrant workers in the western province of Tak only receive around Bt180 per day and they need to work overtime to cover their daily expenses. However, they are facing difficulties now that they cannot work overtime.

DVB on June 7:

Thai authorities apprehended and deported 163 undocumented Burmese migrants in a raid in Mae Sot on Tuesday. Conducted by a joint task force of Thai army, government authorities, immigration officials and police, the round-up took place at Ban Sung Kwe, an area densely populated by Burmese migrants in the western Thai town.

The migrants – 49 men, 59 women and 55 children – were loaded into trucks and transported across the border to Myawaddy in Karen State.

Two days later, on 5 June, another raid, this time in the southern Thai town of Ranong, resulted in the capture of 136 Burmese migrants who had recently been smuggled into Thailand on foot, according to Ranong provincial governor Cherdsak Jampathes said at a press conference that same day.

Ranong Governor Cherdsak alluded loosely to the 22 May military coup in Thailand, saying it was important for the Thai armed forces to work closely with other offices during this time of unrest in the country.

BP: But this is referring to Burmese migrants, but those leaving are Cambodian.

IOM Web site on June 11:

Large numbers of irregular migrant workers from Cambodia are leaving Thailand through the Poi Pet International Border Checkpoint, according to IOM, which has deployed staff on the border. Many are effectively stranded, with no money to pay for onward transport to reunite with their families. IOM Cambodia has sent three buses to help transport the returnees, but is concerned that flows have suddenly increased over recent days, placing a strain on services at this, the main border crossing, between the two countries. “There are usually only about 100 migrants coming through each day,” said Leul Mekonnen, IOM’s Acting Chief of Mission in Cambodia. “But we are already seeing more than 1,000 a day and we do not know what the coming days hold.”  


From IOM report on June 12:

Cambodia is currently experiencing a massive re- turn of irregular Cambodian migrants at the Poi Pet border-crossing. Almost 20,000 people are estimated to have crossed since Saturday, with more than 10,000 arriving today. They are return- ing home from Thailand amid fear of arrest by the authorities and unprecedented layoffs by their employers. Most of the migrants are undocu- mented and work in construction and agricultural industries for salaries of less than USD10 per day. There are an estimated 150,000 irregular Cambo- dian migrants in Thailand. The exodus has increased rapidly day by day but there is no way of knowing if this will continue, stabilize or tail off.

A screenshot from the same report:

BP: So big increase on June 9 and then just going up exponentially. As you can see from the below report, it was 15,000 for June 12 and then from a below tweet it was 37,000 on June 13.

IOM on June 13:

As thousands of irregular migrants continue to pour across the Cambodian border from Thailand, IOM is working to provide transport for vulnerable people who lack the means to get home.

Some 15,000 people crossed into Cambodia at the border town of Poi Pet last night, following an effort to regularize migration by the military authorities in Thailand. IOM estimates that close to 25,000 people have re-entered Cambodia since Saturday.

The vast majority work in construction and agriculture, where they are paid about USD 10 per day. Most are male, but about 30 per cent are women, while some 2,000 children are also part of the exodus.

Meng Hout (35) left his farm in Batambang Province a month ago with his wife Srey Mao (31) and their children Meng Hak (7) and Slev Hou (15 months). “I have debts of almost $1,000 and wasn’t making enough from my farm so I took a job as a fruit picker across the border,” he says. Due to the uncertainty in Thailand, the family decided to leave and piled into a bus taxi with 35 other people to reach Poi Pet.


Smaller numbers are coming through at border posts in other provinces, and still more may be crossing unofficially through forests and open country. There are an estimated 150,000 Cambodian irregular migrants in Thailand and the long-term social and economic impact on both countries is uncertain.

BP: An effort to regularize migration?

BP: So why? Below are some excerpts from other articles (i.e unrelated to IOM or their tweets).

Phnom Penh Post on June 9:

Thousands of Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand are rushing back across the border, voluntarily repatriating themselves in the face of increasingly hostile rhetoric towards undocumented labourers.

In the wake of Thailand’s coup d’état last month, army chief General Prayuth Chan-o-Cha urged better regulation of the workforce and warned illegal workers of their tenuous and unwelcome status, last week outlining ways “to prevent [an] illegal work force from entering into the country and give more work opportunities to Thai nationals”.

“They are scared and decided themselves to come back. One day, around 100 or more came with Thai military transporting them to the border,” said Colonel Chin Piseth, deputy director of the Cambodian-Thai border relations office in Poipet.

Piseth estimated that thousands of Cambodians have returned since last week when the Thai military announced it would not take responsibility for any incident involving undocumented migrants.

Although, the Cambodian government states that not all those who have crossed the border are self-repatriations per Xinhua:

Thai authorities have sent 7, 507 illegal Cambodian migrant workers back to Cambodia since the start of this month, a Cambodian spokesman said Wednesday.

“Within nine days from June 1 to 9, Thai authorities have sent 7,507 illegal Cambodian migrant workers back to Cambodia,” Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in a statement

BP: In previous years, 89,000 Cambodians were deported in a single year (or average of 243 a day) so 7,507 in 9 days (or average of 834 a day) is a big increase.

AFP on June 11:

Thailand’s junta threatened Wednesday to arrest and deport all illegal foreign workers, as border officials reported an exodus of Cambodian migrants following last month’s military takeover.

Labourers from neighbouring Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar have played a key role in Thai industries such as seafood, agriculture and construction, but they often lack proper work permits.

From now on any illegal migrant workers found in Thailand “will be arrested and deported”, Thai army spokeswoman Sirichan Ngathong said.

“We see illegal workers as a threat because there were a lot of them and no clear measures to handle them, which could lead to social problems,” she said.

…Construction worker Chea Loeun, who returned from Thailand on Wednesday, said Cambodians feared being arrested by the Thai army.

They said Cambodian migrants joined protests there,” the 34-year-old told AFP by telephone from Poipet.

“Cambodia workers dare not stay in Thailand anymore.”

Thailand is usually home to more than two million migrant workers, according to activists.

Phnom Penh Post on June 12:

For Phivorn, the choice to stay or go was made for him after he was essentially torn from his life in Thailand.

My construction employer asked us to return to Cambodia temporarily because the Thai military government announced that they would check all companies and if they found illegal migrant workers, they would fine the employer 10,000 baht ($333) for each worker and would arrest and bring the worker to detention,” he said.

Phivorn didn’t need further convincing after a rumour now familiar to most deportees at the compound started spreading: any undocumented Cambodian found by the army may be shot and killed if they don’t leave the country within the next two months.

BP: Hmm….

Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee:

A coalition of 21 NGOs working on the promotion of Human Rights, Democracy, and the Rule of Law in Cambodia deplores the decision of the Thai junta to deport Cambodian migrants en masse and demands that their deportation is carried out in a manner which respects their human rights

Since June 1st, 2014, about 40,000 Cambodian workers in Thailand have self-deported or have been forcibly removed from the country by the military junta. ADHOC investigators have received credible witness accounts up to nine Cambodian migrants have been killed, and that beatings have occurred at the hands of the Thai armed forces.. Unfortunately, in times of crisis in Thailand Cambodians are often scapegoated. Many Cambodian workers are now stranded at the border without enough money to get them home.

In the past, the authorities have turned a blind eye to the presence of illegal immigrants in Thailand needed for booming economy. But the situation has changed and the country has experienced a decline in GDP of 2.1%1 in the first quarter of 2014 compared to the previous quarter.

Human Dignity is a fundamental human right as mentioned under Article 1 of United Nations Declaration of Human Rights to which both Thailand and Cambodia are signatories.

The Thai military violated the human rights of undocumented Cambodian migrant workers when it forcefully expelled them from the country, placing them in crowded trucks. This treatment subjected these workers to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment as prohibited by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Moreover, due to inadequate preparation and coordination between the Thai and Cambodian authorities, the migrants workers have been forced to shelter in makeshift tents at the border, and hundreds more workers continue to arrive every day. Water, food, healthcare and shelter are severely limited.

Thais deny this per The Cambodia Daily on June 14:

Also on Friday, Thai Ambassador Pakdi Touchayoot denied claims made by local rights group Adhoc that up to nine Cambodian workers had been shot during the military raids.

“We have checked with all Thai authorities concerned, but there are no reports of the killing of nine Cambodian people. So we deny that,” Mr. Pakdi said. “We are requesting the allegations of where it happened and when it happened from Adhoc.”

Foreign Minister Koy Kuong said the Cambodian ambassador to Thailand had received a similar declaration from the government of Thailand.

However, Soum Chankea, Adhoc’s Banteay Meanchey provincial coordinator, stood by the information, saying the group interviewed witnesses to the shootings.

“I have video clips and recordings of the witnesses when I interviewed them. If our government needs it, I will give it to them,” he said.

The report of Cambodians been killed by Thais has become an issue for the Cambodian opposition. Kyodo:

Sam Rainsy, leader of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, wrote a letter to Thailand’s junta leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha on Friday, saying he was shocked with allegations of abuse of Cambodian workers by Thai authorities.

Quoting a Cambodian rights group, Sam Rainsy said nine Cambodian migrants were killed by Thai soldiers.

The letter also said Cambodians who have returned home have reported violent raids on houses of suspected illegal Cambodian migrants and incidents of tearing up documents that allow Cambodians to work legally in Thailand.

“News of this kind is very distressing and frightening from a humanitarian point of view,” Sam Rainsy said in the letter.

BP: Although, Rainsy claims that 500,000 Cambodians were deported by the Thai authorities (whereas Hun Sen’s government claims lower figures than those of IOM). Moral of the story is that BP would rely on IOM over either Rainy or the Hun Sen government…

Phnom Penh Post on June 14:

Nearly every kind of bus, truck or military car that can fit more than 10 people is packed with poor Cambodian labourers desperate to get home. To add to their pain, Poipet has experienced blackouts and torrential rain, turning the streets into muddy tracks and hampering soldiers, medical staff and aid workers who are trying to help.

Our employer gave us a choice: go home now, or stay and face the soldiers who may arrest or even shoot you,” said Thai Phoun, 28, a construction worker who moved to Thailand last year to earn the equivalent of $10 a day.

Phoun said all 24 workers at his site, including his wife, decided to head back to Cambodia.

AP on June 14:

More than 80,000 Cambodians have fled neighboring Thailand to return home, fearing a crackdown on migrant workers under Thailand’s new military government.

The governor of Cambodia’s Banteay Meanchey province, Kor Samsarouet, said Saturday more than 84,000 have returned this month through the border crossing at the west Cambodian town of Poipet, including 40,000 on Friday.

The trigger for the exodus seems to have been statements by Thailand’s military government, which took power in a coup last month, that it would crack down on illegal immigrants and those employing them. Several were reportedly fired from jobs and sent home, and the belief spread that legal and illegal workers were being ejected.

The numbers of those fleeing swelled as unsubstantiated rumors circulated that several workers had been shot dead by Thai authorities.

BP: This is still in line with the IOM figures because the 70,000 from IOM is from yesterday early afternoon so it is certainly possible another 10,000 could have left after this (remembering 37,000 left the previous day….)

Bangkok Post on June 15:

The National Council for Peace and Order denies it has any policy to evict Cambodian migrants and has rejected accusations of abuse. It suggested many of the migrants are simply leaving to farm rice in their home country.

NCPO spokeswoman Patamaporn Rattanadilok Na Phuket said the junta had no policy to crack down on Cambodian workers, although it had set up a committee to review immigration policies for foreign workers.

Ms Patamaporn said the NCPO acknowledged there were “rumours” spreading about a junta crackdown on migrant workers, and that this was likely prompting employers to panic and send migrants back home.

She said coup leader Prayuth Chan-ocha had ordered authorities to assist the return of Cambodian workers, insisting he wanted them to arrive back safely.

BP: It is still illegal to criticize the junta so BP will be careful what BP says, but “assist the return” maybe a new term for what was previously known as deportation.

On migrants returning to farm rice, there has not been an increase in world rice prices – actually they have been trending downwards this year – and so are Cambodian rice prices so clearly this must mean the wise leaders of the Thai junta know more than anyone else…..

Conclusion: It is hard to say what specifically set things off, but BP believes it is a combination of (1) Cambodians being aware that some were being blamed for being red shirt protesters and understanding the military government is aligned with the establishment, (2) military has been cracking down on all types of activity since the coup,  (3) many of the Cambodians leaving/fleeing do not have the correct documentation, but in the past the crackdowns were infrequent and payments could be made (but with the military in control, there seem to be doubts from workers whether this is possible now), (4) military has made statements cracking down on illegal labor, (5) talk of crackdowns has made some Thai employers nervous and this no doubt filters through to employees, and (6) stories of Thai soldiers killing Cambodian workers (together with the knowledge that previous stories about the Thai military in regards to Cambodian workers/loggers has not been positive).

BP: You can take your pick on why those leaving voluntarily have perceived the threat as such, but they have and continue to do so for now. There are, according to the Thai authorities 441,000 legal Cambodian workers and there were a couple of hundred thousand illegal ones although this down over 70,000 now.  A lot of businesses particularly those involved in construction employ Cambodians and the economy depends on them so can the junta stop the flow?