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Thousands of Cambodian Workers Fleeing Thailand

The Thai military is in control of the country, following a coup in May.
Thousands of workers have fled Thailand since the military coup, and the border continues to see more and more people crossing it each day, officials said Thursday.

Workers are crossing mostly via the border town of Poipet, in Banteay Meanchey. Some have been forced out, and others are fleeing, officials said Thursday.

Government officials put the number of workers who have left the country at 20,000, but human rights groups say it could be double that number.

The Thai military is in control of the country, following a coup in May. An estimated 400,000 Cambodians work in Thailand, either legally or not, and a Thai spokesman recently said illegal workers represent a “threat” to Thailand.

Cambodian authorities are working with the International Organization for Migration to help workers once they get across the border.

“When they arrive, we give them a package of rice and a bottle of water,” Kor Sumsaroeun, governor of Banteay Meanchey, told VOA Khmer. “We’ll send them back to their homes on the same day.”

Those who cross also get a quick health checkup, said Sum Chankea, a coordinator in the province for the rights group Adhoc.

Thailand has proven a traditionally tempting place for Cambodians to work, especially the rural poor. But workers also say they have to evade Thai authorities.

“From time to time, they chase us,” said Kong Veasna, a 47-year-old worker who was at the Poipet crossing late Thursday. “This time was the most serious.”