The number of workers illegally migrating to Thailand continued to increase at the start of the year, many of them cheated by their brokers, according to the Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL).
“Since the covid-19 pandemic, even though there is [a legal avenue] to send the Khmer workers to Thailand, Khmer workers mostly do not migrate through the legal method,” said Dy Thehoya, a program officer for CENTRAL.
Vuthy, a 29-year-old Khmer born in Kampot province, told CamboJA that he and his wife entered Thailand illegally with others on foot, which took four hours, on May 21. He and his wife have not found a job since their arrival.
“I came to Thailand with no self-confidence and I was traveling with fear,” Vuthy said. “On the other hand, I owe money to the bank because in my hometown, I cannot earn as much money.”
He added that he was forced to search for a livelihood in Thailand because his two children – aged eight and one – are studying and he has to pay the bank back, even if it meant being separated from them. He said he could not afford to migrate through legal means because it costs more than 50 percent more and takes too long.
“[If I] come through the MOU, I have to wait for about two to three months to get to Thailand and I will not be able to get enough money to pay the bank on time,” he said. He explained that migration under the two countries’ Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) costs $300 per person, while illegal migration costs around 6,000 baht per person.
Responding to CamboJA on whether he would return to Cambodia if he was unable to find a job in Thailand, Vuthy said, “I also do not have money to go back. Now, I am broken too.”
Similarly, Ponlork, 30, born in Oddar Meanchey Province, told CamboJA that she entered Thailand illegally on foot on May 24, and paid 6,500 Baht to a broker.
“I came to Thailand without any personal money. I borrowed money from the bank,” she said. “If I apply [to migrate under the] MOU, it will take one or two months. It takes too long, so I decided to come illegally to get money quickly back to the bank.”
Ponlork said that she decided to search for a job in Thailand because she didn’t have enough money to pay back the bank loan for her farming business when she was still in her hometown. She had hoped for a healthy harvest of potatoes at home but they were destroyed by frequent rainfalls and floods.
Thehoya, the CENTRAL program officer, said that there are almost 80 cases of human trafficking and migration via illegal brokers to Thailand. “We found that one person spends 7,000 to 10,000 Baht on the brokers. Among the 80 cases, about 2,000 people were affected,” he said.
Chou Bun Eng, the secretary of state of the Ministry of Interior and permanent vice-chair of the National Committee for Counter Trafficking (NCCT), said, “As long as the Thai side continues to [offer the opportunity], [illegal migration] will not decrease. The two countries have already discussed and agreed that Thailand must not accept illegal workers. They must be sent legally.”
Bun Eng added that Cambodians migrating illegally to Thailand will be detained, deported, and fined by Thai authorities.
“The relevant authorities try their best to educate and advise people at the borders, districts, or through media outlets, but there is still a risk of illegal migration and victims have been rescued,” she also said.
According to a Facebook post by CENTRAL on May 30, one of its representatives collaborated with the Cambodian Friendship Migrant Workers Association Thailand (CFAT) and the LPN foundation in Ban Kao region, Phan Thong District of Chon Buri Province in Thailand on May 29 to help solve the challenges faced by 67 workers – 38 of them cheated by brokers.
Sare, 41, who was born in Pur Rieng district of Prey Veng province, told CamboJA that he and his wife, who went to Thailand before the Covid-19 outbreak in 2019, were both cheated by brokers – he in December last year and his wife on March 28. They have not had jobs since mid-December.
However, he said that his wife has since received compensation in the amount of 8,500 Baht, out of the 10,000 Baht she was cheated of, after coordinated help from activist organizations.
According to Sare, workers usually have to pay brokers in advance to obtain jobs. He said that he heard of more than 100 Cambodians who paid brokers in advance, spending between 2,000 and 15,000 baht.
Bun Eng said that Cambodians have been detained along the Thai-Cambodian border. “When we [the Cambodian authorities] detained them, they sometimes think that we violate their freedom, but we do not want them to be victims,” she said.
She added that in 2004, there were 180,000 Cambodian workers in Thailand and now there is an increase of more than one million due to illegal migration. She warned that there is not much the government can do for Cambodians who migrate illegally abroad.
“We want Cambodians to listen to education and advice to know what is beneficial for them,” she said.