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Farewell, Thailand: The Return Home for Cambodian Migrant Workers

19 Jun Farewell, Thailand: The Return Home for Cambodian Migrant Workers

The latest episode in Thailand’s military coup saga is the exodus of undocumented Cambodian migrant workers from the country. These workers have largely fled in fear of government persecution due to their legal status in the country. Reports accusing the Thai military junta of killing up to nine Cambodians in the repatriation process have done little to assuage the fear and uncertainty in the country.

However, the junta has vehemently dismissed the national crackdown on Cambodian workers as based on “groundless news reports.” Its move to curb illegal migrant labour has been accompanied by the country’s subsequent progress in the field of human rights. Thailand has stated how it has exceeded the U.S. Department of State’s criteria for an upgrade on the soon-to-be released 2014 Trafficking in Persons report, such as making significant strides to investigate, punish, and convict perpetrators of human trafficking by cooperating with local and foreign partners. it has also reversed its decision on the new, legally-binding International Labor Organization’s Forced Labor protocol. After initially voting against the protocol, Thailand now backs the international consensus on eliminating forced labour.

The Ripple Effect: Implications for Thailand 

Regardless of the reasons, the exit of numerous refugees will put extra pressure on already-fragile relations between Cambodia and Thailand as a result of historical territorial disputes. Furthermore, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is known to be an open ally of exiled Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his Red Shirts.

Besides political tensions, there are also economic concerns for both countries. Both Thailand and Cambodia are reliant on the migrant workers, with the former requiring cheap foreign labour in sectors such as agriculture and fishing, and the latter on the remittances the workers send back home. Foreign investor confidence in Thailand has decreased due to the general wariness that has accompanied the military coup d’état. As well, commodity prices have generally been falling and exports are growing at a slower rate.

For workers returning to Cambodia, there appears to be only two real options. The first is to attempt to find new jobs in a country where prospects are poor. The second is to return eventually to their lives in Thailand, a move that Cambodia has said it will be encouraging through legal means. However, this second option will largely depend on the foreign labour guidelines set forth by the Thai military junta. The bubble of uncertainty presiding over both countries appears ready to burst; the question is just of when.

Photo: Ilya Plekhanov, Wikimedia Commons


Over 100,000 Cambodian migrant workers flee Thailand [CNN, 16 June 2014]

Cambodian migrant workers take flight [Bangkok Post, 14 June 2014]

Migrant workers hit by Thailand’s iron fist [The Nation, 17 June 2014]