Cambodian migrants flee Thailand

The Phnom Penh Post reported that 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”.

In response, many undocumented and unregistered Cambodian workers are deciding to show themselves the door. Border officials said groups of workers are cramming into military trucks, opting to be sent home rather than incur potential punishment.

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.

While forcible expulsions from Thailand are not uncommon – a UN study found more than 89,000 Cambodians were deported from Thailand in 2009 for illegal migration – en masse voluntary returns or large round-ups of employed workers is extremely unusual, according to Moeun Tola, head of the labour program at the Community Legal Education Center.