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Cambodian workers on the move

June 17, 2014

Tens of thousands of Cambodian workers have returned home from Thailand over the past month. The mass exodus was sparked by fears of a crackdown on illegal workers by Thailand's military junta.

Image: picture-alliance/dpa

The number of Cambodians who have returned home over the past few weeks rose to nearly 180,000 on Tuesday, according to officials cited by the AFP news agency.

"The number of Cambodians returning from Thailand into Poipet in just over a week reached 157,000 by this morning," said Kor Sam Saroeut, governor of northwestern Banteay Meanchey province, referring to the main border crossing between the two countries. The governor added that 20,000 others had crossed at a separate border 250 kilometers (155 miles) to the northeast.

On Monday, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) confirmed an earlier Cambodian government estimate of 150,000, while Thai officials put the figure at well under 100,000.

The exodus reportedly continued on Tuesday morning, with a few hundred Cambodians arriving at Poipet in Thai military trucks and police cars.

Accusations of coercion

Cambodian rights groups have accused Thai military junta of coercing the illegal workers to return home through threats and by abusing them. The number of Cambodians leaving Thailand rose sharply last week, after rumors spread that Thai soldiers had killed as many as nine Cambodians and threatened and beaten several others.

Thai officials have rejected the accusations, saying that the Cambodian workers were returning home voluntarily after having been laid off from their jobs.

Speaking to the Associated Press on Monday, Thai foreign ministry spokesman Sek Wannamethee said the voluntary return of Cambodian workers was being "facilitated by the Thai side in terms of transportation to the border checkpoints." He described the accusation that the Cambodians were being forced out as "unfounded."

Thailand, with its usually relatively robust economy, also attracts many migrant workers from neighboring Myanmar and Laos, but only Cambodians have been leaving in high numbers.

pfd/hc (AFP, AP)

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