Roundup: The Cambodian Exodus

As of 19th June 2014, Human Rights Watch has reported several hundred thousand migrant workers from Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos fleeing Thailand. An estimated 220,000 Cambodian workers have returned to the safety of their own country in fear of the Junta’s action against illegal migrant workers. A much smaller number of Burmese migrants have followed suit, although majority of the Burmese population continue to lie low in Thailand. This massive exodus has been sparked by rumors indicative of a crackdown against migrant workers who enter Thailand illegally.
Cambodian Interior Minister Sar Kheng said the Thai army "must be held responsible" for the problems relating to the exodus, including the loss of lives (Six Cambodian workers and one Thai driver were killed on the way to the border). According to Sar Kheng, though the Cambodian workers may have entered Thailand illegally, the value of their lives should not be negated; they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. He was also quoted by Reuters in saying that "The army had rushed to deport workers who are considered illegal without prior notice or discussion with Cambodia, or at least making contact with provinces along the borders," 
In response to such accusations, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) asserts that it has no intention to crackdown on illegal migrant workers. NCPO deputy spokesman Col Winthai Suvari has also added that officials will look into the plight of migrant workers by visiting provinces where they are located in high concentration, to enquire on the mismanagement of migrant labor. The Junta’s position has been fairly inconsistent towards the issue of illegal migrant workers and this is majorly detrimental to the current situation as the insecurities harbored by the migrant workers, illegal or not, are spawned by the dissonance of the junta. 
Faced with bleak prospects of security in Thailand, the migrant workers make their way towards the border to avoid trouble. This movement is inimical to both Cambodia and Thailand. In Cambodia, the incumbent government is struggling to deal with the sudden influx and to provide jobs for their returning citizens. Thailand, teetering on the brink of recession since the first quarter, is in for a labor crisis with the abrupt departure of a substantial workforce. According to Somchao Tanterdtham, Managing Director at N.C. Housing PCL, “Around 80-90% of workers have disappeared”; business has been badly affected. 
The Junta’s migrant worker policy developments can be surveyed in a chronological order to make sense of this episode. It is observed that the recent attempt to revitalize nationalist sentiments through a “Bring back happiness” campaign, coupled with harsh statements on cracking down on illegal activities by the Junta leader himself has incited uncertainty amongst the migrant workers community. As the number of migrant workers leaving Thailand continues to soar, the spotlight on Thailand has intensified exponentially. The exodus has not only caught the attention of the international community; it has presented activists an opportunity to open up a can of worms- to probe on plights of migrant workers, abuse of human rights and the issue of forced labor. Just recently, Washington had downgraded Thailand to tier 3 in the ‘Trafficking in Persons’ (TIP) after 4 consecutive years of being on Tier 2. 
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