Cambodia has asked Thailand to legalized around 160,000 migrant workers, following senior-level meetings last week that have repaired some of the diplomatic damage done by a long military stand-off on the border.
Tens of thousands of Cambodians find work in Thailand each year, while many are trafficked into the sex trade, illegal fishing, or construction jobs that pay no salary. Shooting incidents of Cambodians illegally crossing into Thailand are not uncommon.
In talks between foreign ministers last week, Thailand agreed to legalize at least some of the Cambodian workers it hosts.
“Today, we have about 250,000 laborers working illegally in Thailand,” Hor Namhong told reporters last week. The government has provided working permits to around 90,000 immigrant workers, and Cambodia has requested more time to provide identification for others, he said.
Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchakul said last week he would discuss the issue with relevant Thai authorities.
Thailand forcibly returned more than 100,000 Cambodians last year, according to the government’s transit center for migration in Banteay Meanchey province.
“Cambodians are still abandoning their lives to enter Thailand to find a job,” said Chan Saveth, chief monitor for the rights group Adhoc. “Some go through a broker. Some go through friends. Some illegally enter for Thailand for work.”