Thailand Says No Policy To ‘Sweep And Clean’ Illegal Migrants

Video of shooting of pickup carrying cambodians may have raised fears

More than 140,000 Cambodians had fled jobs in Thailand to return home as of Monday, fearing a crackdown on illegal migrants under junta rule, an official said.

The mass exodus of workers — who play a key role in Thai industries such as seafood and agriculture but often lack official permits — comes amid an army warning of arrest and deportation for illegal foreign workers.

Thailand is believed to have about two million documented foreign migrant workers from countries including Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos who work in low-paying jobs that Thais are unwilling to do, according to a news service for the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Foreign workers are often vulnerable to police harassment and exploitation, advocates say.

The military junta yesterday reiterated it has no policy to crack down on migrant workers here despite the exodus of more than 120,000 Cambodian “illegals”, amid rumours of fierce operations targeting them.

“The military has no policy to do anything with migrant workers. There are no troops hunting migrant workers in Thailand,” spokesman Winthai Suvari said.

The junta’s 59th order on June 10 to set up a committee chaired by General Tanasak Patimapragorn, the Supreme Commander and deputy head of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) would take care of policy matters, not an operation to crack down workers, he said.

Deputy director the Labour Ministry’s Employment Department Thanit Noumnoi said most Cambodian workers had returned home because their four-year contracts had been completed. And some had returned for work on farms as the planting season had begun, he said.

However, many had panicked about the political situation in Thailand and a recent rumour (of people being shot), he said. “The labour ministry is now working to help them know the real situation that we don’t have policy to crack down on them,” he said, adding that the ministry was producing posters and billboards to give them correct information.

The return of Cambodian workers would not have serious ramifications on the economy, he claimed, saying the demand of labour would not rise until the economy takes off in the next six months.

The Foreign Ministry’s permanent secretary Sihasak Phungketkeow is due to meet today with Cambodian Ambassador to Thailand, Eat Sophea, to explain the Thai policy on migrant workers and ask her to convey better understanding in regard to Cambodian workers here.

Despite this, however, Cambodian workers were still crossing the border back to their home country, as they do not trust the situation and relatives at home have kept urging them to return because of fears for their safety.

A video clip circulated yesterday showed a group of armed men dressing like police in hot pursuit of Cambodian workers on a truck in Bothong district, Chon Buri. The clip, later proved to be real, fuelled more fears among them.

The incident took place on Sunday when gunmen on a pick-up shot the tyres of another truck laden with Cambodian workers. The truck later overturned killing two Cambodians and injuring many others on board. Stray bullets also injured an 11-year-old girl walking along the road during the pursuit, according to Suwichan Yankittikul, deputy Chon Buri provincial police commander. The police arrested some suspects and were investing whether they any were security officials, he said.

However, roundups of migrant workers are conducted on a daily basis. Officials in Chiang Mai yesterday briefly detained more than 100 foreign workers standing at a site where migrants wait for jobs in that province. All were released later as they had proper documents, an official in the operation said.

Source: The Nation, CNN & Yahoo