News Analysis: Thai authorities urged to help Cambodian migrant workers

The Philippine Star

BANGKOK (Xinhua) - Thailand should extend all necessary assistance to foreign migrant workers, including Cambodians who earlier fled in panic, regardless of the recent release from Phnom Penh prison of a convicted Thai spy, according to a human rights activist.

Over the weekend, Surapong Kongchanthuek, an independent human rights activist, called on the ruling Thai military to take stringent measures against criminal syndicates believed to be responsible in human trafficking victimizing a large number of Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand.

Of a total of about 220,000 Cambodians who had scrambled to leave Thailand for fears of being arrested as illegal aliens last month, only "thousands" have come back to Thai territory so far, Surapong said.

He said the release by Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni of Veera Somkwamkid, who had served three and a half years in Phnom Penh's Prey Sar prison for espionage and illegal entry charges, should by no means be considered an obstacle to the improvement of Thai- Cambodian relations following the exodus of the Cambodian migrants from Thailand.

"The release of Veera may have been done merely based on Cambodian judicial process and should not be related to a possible disruption of relationship between the two countries," Surapong said.

He said that the Thai military leaders may have intended to help him out, given the ruling powers they attained by staging a coup in the name of the National Council for Peace and Order.

"And that should not have anything to do with bilateral relationship as a whole,"  said Surapong who has specialized in the handling of exile-seeking migrants from Myanmar.

Veera, a former Yellow Shirt activist, was arrested with six other Thais for allegedly invading Cambodian territory in Banteay Meanchey province from across the eastern Thai border province of Sakeow in 2010.

He and a woman colleague, Ratree Pipattanapaiboon, were detained and finally sentenced by a Phnom Penh court to eight years and six years in jail on espionage and illegal entry charges. Ratree was freed after she had served two years in jail.

Thai Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Sihasak Puangketkeow, who had visited the Cambodian capital and met with Prime Minister Hun Sen, brought the freed Veera back to Bangkok last week.

The ruling Thai military is yet to find ways and means to bring back to Thailand Cambodian migrant workers who had fled the country in panic after news spread out that they will be arrested for illegal entry, Surapong added.

He said that the country could benefit from the Cambodian migrant workers, especially in propping up the Thai economy.

"Without the Cambodian migrant workers, who are known to be hard workers, the Thai economy would suffer," Surapong said, adding that the Thai authorities should provide them with humanitarian aid as soon as they return.

Most of the Cambodians had been hired as unskilled workers at construction sites, fruit orchards and manufacturing factories in Thailand.

Surapong's comments followed the reported support of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to Thai ruler Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha's ongoing efforts in fighting human trafficking and in legalizing the stay of all foreign workers in Thailand.

Gen Prayuth earlier instructed Thai diplomats and other officials to ask Cambodian authorities to convince the migrant workers to return to their jobs in Thailand.

Thailand has migrant workers from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia; some of them are documented but some are illegal.

Labor officials said that there are now an estimated 2.5 million foreign workers throughout Thailand and about half of them are said to have been hired illegally.

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