Cambodian workers exit Thailand amid rumors of crackdown

Nearly 200,000 Cambodians have made an exodus from Thailand amid rumors of a crackdown by Thailand's military rulers on migrant workers.

Among border crossings with Thailand, Poi Pet has been the most crowded point of exit. Almost 170,000 Cambodians have passed through Poi Pet on their way home since June 6.

Banteay Meanchey Gov. Kou Soumsaroeut said the return of Cambodian workers from Thailand has been chaotic, especially in Poi Pet, which now looks like a refugee camp.

"It is chaotic and the first time in history that so many Cambodians working in Thailand are returning home," he told Kyodo News.

The governor said more than 2,000 police, military police and other government personnel are in Poi Pet to facilitate the return of the Cambodians, and more than 300 military trucks and other vehicles are on standby to transport them to their hometowns.

The precise reason behind the alarming number of Cambodians fleeing Thailand every day remains unclear.

In Thailand, the military, which overthrew the government May 22, has tightened its policy on migrant workers, but there is no clear evidence it has cracked down on illegal workers.

"There are no troops hunting migrant workers in Thailand," Thai junta spokesman Winthai Suvari said Monday.

Cambodian workers, however, seem confused by the situation in Thailand.

Heng Vai, 26, a construction worker in Thailand for the past eight years, said his passport had already expired and he returned home after Thai police raided his place.

He said he will renew his passport and then return to Thailand, where he said he gets better pay, earning about 15,000 baht (about $468) a month.

In Cambodia, the basic salary for construction work ranges from $100 to $300 a month.

Mau Rithy, 40, a grass-cutter in Thailand's Rak Yong Province, said he was in Thailand with his wife and son for two months, earning 200 baht a day.

Another Cambodian who returned from Thailand said she had decided to come back home as rumors spread she would arrested and executed by the Thai military.

"We were told that if we will not leave by June 20, we will be arrested and executed by the Thai military," said Chhun Sdoeung, 42, who returned to Cambodia with her husband and their five children.

Chhun Sdoeung said she worked for a year in Thailand as a construction worker, but added she will not go back to Thailand even the situation returns to normal.

Neth Serey, Cambodia's consul general in Thailand's Sakaew Province bordering Cambodia's Banteay Meanchey, said construction has been the most popular job for Cambodian laborers in Thailand.

According to Thai statistics, 241,673 Cambodians are legally registered workers, and 153,683 illegal workers.

As the number of Cambodian migrant workers swells in Cambodia, the trend could become a new source of political and economic headache for Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Kem Ley, a social researcher and commentator in Cambodia, said the exodus of Cambodian laborers from Thailand will likely trigger an economic crisis for some 1.5 million Cambodians who have borrowed money for their children traveling and working abroad, with the expectation that they will send money back home.

On Monday alone more than 15,000 Cambodian laborers returned from Thailand and nearly 10,000 more had returned by late Tuesday afternoon.