Bangkok (AsiaNews/Agencies) - More than 110,000 Cambodians have fled Thailand to return home, fearing a crackdown on migrant workers after last month's military takeover, an official said on Sunday. Laborers from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar play a key role in Thai industries such as, agriculture and construction, but they often lack official work permits. On Wednesday, Thailand's military regime had threatened to arrest and deport all illegal foreign workers.
Kor Sam Saroeut, governor of northwestern Banteay Meanchey province where the
main Cambodian-Thai border crossing is locate: "They're returning en masse.
They've never come en masse like this before in our history. Most of them went
to work in Thailand without a work permit. They are scared and when Thai
authorities check their houses they
don't run: they prefer to being deported than being arrested or shot."
The mass exodus comes after Thai Army spokeswoman Sirichan Ngathong on Wednesday said the junta viewed illegal workers as a "threat." "We see illegal workers as a threat because there were a lot of them and no clear measures to handle them, which could lead to social problems," she said.
Thai authorities have arranged nearly 300 cars and military trucks to transport workers from the Aranyaprathet-Poipet border checkpoint to their homes, according to Cambodian governor Saroeut.
Chea Thea, a construction worker, she said that she deciding to leave after
seeing her compatriots were departing in large numbers.
Thai military officials were not immediately available for comment on the mass exodus. But on Friday a foreign ministry spokesman dismissed "rumors" that the army was rounding up illegal Cambodian migrants and ordering their deportation.
Soum Chankea, a coordinator for Cambodian rights group who has met many workers at the border, said the number of migrants returning to the country was growing each day.
The army has floated the idea of creating special economic zones in border
areas to better manage the movement of migrant workers, although so far details
of the plan remain vague.
On Friday Cambodia's opposition leader Sam Rainsy wrote to Thailand's Army Chief Prayuth Chan-o-Cha calling for Cambodian migrants to be "treated in line with international human rights standards."