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Rights Groups Call on Thailand to Protect Migrant Workers

Migrant workers unload frozen fish west of Bangkok, Friday, June 20, 2014. The downgrade in Thailand's human trafficking status could hurt its lucrative seafood and shrimp industries for which America is a key market.
Rights groups say the exodus of Cambodian workers from Thailand has exposed them to violations of their human rights, including shipment of workers out of the country in crowded cages on trucks.

Some 200,000 Cambodians have fled Thailand or been expelled since the May 22 military coup.

In a statement Friday, Adhoc, a leading rights group in Cambodia, called the methods in which Cambodians are being expelled “uncivilized [and] inhumane.”

“The repatriation is done via threat by the Thai junta,” Thun Saray, president of Adhoc, told reporters Friday. “The migrant workers in fact have been threatened, frightened, tortured and endured other forms of violence.”

Workers report extortion as they have tried to leave, or been arrested, and of being shipped to the border in crowded trucks. Those unable to pay bribes are kept in detention, witnesses say.

Thai authorities maintain that they are not harming workers and that no official crackdown is underway. They have blamed the mass exodus of Cambodians on “rumors.”

Nevertheless, New York-based Human Rights Watch has called on Thailand to take measures to protect migrant workers inside the country and to reform its system, to make workers safer.

“The importance here, we understand, is the opportunity to reset the system, by doing basic reforms for migrant workers in Thailand, to end right abuses and to ensure that migrants can be protected and treated fairly,” Phil Robertson, deputy director of the group’s Asia division, said Friday. “The military said they are going to set a fair system, but we are not certain what they are going to do.”

An estimated 400,000 Cambodians were working in Thailand prior to the exodus. Human Rights Watch says in general, migrant workers in that country are subject to “systematic abuse” and violence from police, authorities and their own employers.

In a statement, the Thai Embassy in Cambodia said the government is considering amending laws and regulations to resolve migrant issues. The embassy said legal, documented Cambodian laborers will be allowed to work in Thailand.

Cambodian authorities on Friday said they were providing passports at minimal costs, issued within 20 days of application for prospective migrant workers and students wishing to study abroad.