BANGKOK — Ever since the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 197, the border between Thailand and Cambodia has been slowly and steadily opening. As a result, Cambodians have been traveling across the border in increasingly growing numbers in order to try and find work in Thailand.
For many years this was typical, as younger people flooded out of small villages in Cambodia and into Thailand in order to gain enough income to support themselves and their families. It has been estimated that about 250,000 people enter Cambodia’s work force each year, but are met with an incredibly weak job market and subsequently have to look elsewhere for a job.
Thailand has been the most common destination for these young job seekers, usually finding work in clothing factories, on fishing vessels or on construction sites. The Cambodian government has estimated that around 450,000 are working without documentation, while only 90,000 are legally employed.
This large number of undocumented workers is in part due to the costs of legally registering. The International Labor Organization estimated that it costs about $700 to legally to send a worker to Thailand, but only $100 to do so illegally.
However, after the coup d’etat that recently occurred in Thailand, things became significantly more complicated. Rumors have been circulating about an impending crackdown by the Thai military on the Cambodian migrant worker population that has largely been unchecked.
The last official count indicated that at least 225,000 workers have been sent back to Cambodia, but likely even more have left to travel back. Despite this, there are still hundreds of thousands of other undocumented workers remaining in Thailand despite the threats.
As is typical with undocumented work, the pay is sub-par and puts the workers at a substantial risk of human rights abuses. This typically results in unsafe working conditions, indentured servitude and sometimes even devolves into outright human trafficking.
A report released by United States State Department on June 20 indicated that “the majority of the trafficking victims within Thailand, tens of thousands of victims, by conservative estimates, are migrants from Thailand’s neighboring countries who are forced, coerced, or defrauded into labor or exploited in the sex trade.” The same facts also downgraded Thailand to the lowest ranking on the annual Trafficking in Persons report.
Despite this danger, many Cambodians still travel there to find work. Combining this with the hundreds of thousands of Cambodians already in the country and the potential crackdown by the Thai military, drastic human rights violations on a massive scale could possibly happen.
– Andre Gobbo