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Challenges, Opportunities in Worker Exodus from Thailand

Cambodian migrant workers carry their belongings as they walk to cross the border at Aranyaprathet in Sa Kaew, June 15, 2014.
A mass exodus of Cambodia workers from Thailand continues, with some 160,000 people estimated to have returned to Cambodia in the wake of the May coup.

That’s a lot of people coming home, and that creates problems as well as opportunities.

Such a major influx of people back into their own impoverished villages can raise a host of problems—from employment to housing to medical care. But it can also mean a chance for economic development, if handled properly, officials say.

“I think it will be difficult for their communities to cope with a large number of people coming suddenly,” Joe Lowry, a regional spokesman for the International Organization for Migration, told VOA Khmer by phone from Bangkok. “Because they are coming from some of the less-developed towns and villages. They left because they could not find a job.”

That will make it difficult for some communities. The IOM is helping the Cambodian authorities process the influx, which has been ongoing since the Thai military took over the country May 22, with hundreds of Cambodians leaving Thailand and crossing into their homeland each day.

“They will need housing, they will need food, they will need medical care, they will need school and other social services,” Lowry said. “So it would be difficult for them to be reintegrated.”

Chan Sophal, an economist, says the return could hit the job market hard, but it could also help in some areas, by reuniting families. Children will come back to help their parents with their work, and that could have a positive impact, he said.

An estimated 440,000 Cambodians were working in Thailand, many of them illegally, according to government statistics.

Heng Sour, a spokesman for the Ministry of Labor, said that retaining those who returned can be done. The government has decided to set up nearly 40 vocational training programs across the country for those who return from Thailand, in an effort to keep them home, he said.