Hundreds of Cambodian migrant workers arrested in Thailand

RFA Khmer
Hundreds of Cambodian migrant workers arrested in Thailand Cambodian migrant workers arrested by Thai authorities in April 2023 are seen chained together in Bangkok.
[Mara Yim Facebook page]

The recent mass arrest in Thailand of hundreds of Cambodian migrant workers – some of whom were photographed chained together in Bangkok – has prompted one NGO to urge the Cambodian government to take action with Thai authorities.

Many of the 800 workers arrested last month didn’t have enough money to pay fees at the border, had expired working permits or didn’t have enough documentation. The workers were returning to Thailand illegally following the recent Khmer New Year holiday, which ran from April 14-16.

Photos shared on social media showed people linked together, with their hands in chains as they sat with their heads bowed in a police van.

The images were an attempt by Thai authorities to publicly shame illegal migrants and possibly discourage others from coming into Thailand, said Dy The Hoya, the migration program director at the Phnom Penh-based Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights, or CENTRAL.

“Most Cambodian people who were arrested were tortured and handcuffed,” a statement from CENTRAL said. “People were detained in a narrow space. These arrests don’t just impact basic human rights, but also their finances and family living standards.”

The actions of the Thai authorities went well beyond normal law enforcement measures and if there is no action from Cambodian authorities, Cambodian migrant workers will continue to face the same treatment, Hoya said.

“When torture is allowed, it is an act of inhumanity and violation of human rights,” he said.  “It can happen to our people again. This could be the tip of the iceberg.”

Cambodian migrant workers arrested by Thai authorities in April 2023 are seen chained together in Bangkok. [Mara Yim Facebook page]

No statement yet

 There are about 2 million Cambodians working in Thailand, about half of whom are undocumented, according to CENTRAL. People who have recently lost their jobs in factories or can’t find work in Cambodia’s construction industry have continued to cross into Thailand to find work, the NGO said.

The Cambodian government should talk to Thai authorities to secure the release of all of those recently arrested, and to ensure that Cambodian workers can work legally and with full legal protection and benefits, CENTRAL said.

One worker told Radio Free Asia, a news service affiliated with BenarNews, that there were nine Cambodians who were arrested along with him who were still in jail.

Prum Bunthorn said he was detained in Pathum Thani province, north of Bangkok, on April 24 because he didn’t have sufficient documents. He was released when his Thai boss paid his bail, he said.

Cambodians who enter another country illegally face arrest – but in this case, the decision by Thai authorities to put the migrant workers in chains was an insult, said Sim Vibol, a professor and legal adviser in Phnom Penh.

In this case, Cambodia is obliged to submit a diplomatic note to the Thai government or complain to international institutions like the United Nations, he said.

“If this is found to be happening only to Cambodians, we can accuse Thailand of discriminating against Cambodians,” said Soeung Senkaruna, a spokesperson for the Cambodian rights group Adhoc.

The Cambodian government hasn’t issued a statement about the arrests, although the Cambodian Embassy in Thailand has urged Thai authorities to stop arresting Cambodian migrants.

Cambodian Foreign Ministry spokesman An Sok Khoeun and government spokesman Phay Siphan didn’t respond to messages left by RFA this week.

Translated by Sok Ry Sum and Samean Yun, and edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster, for Radio Free Asia, a news service affiliated with BenarNews.


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May 05, 2023 08:47 PM

The reason they chained them together is because it's legal in TH to chain those who arrested together when transfer to the police station or court if they are lots of them. After the procedure they will be unchained. This happen not just for Cambodian but also Thai as well. Like I said, it's legal and protocol. Search for pictures of Thai arrested as a group eg. gambling or even ask Thai who were arrested and you'll see. Very simple reason behind why they do that: There are fewer authorities than those who were arrested. if the they run away and esp. run in different directions, how can the authorities catch them all? Shoot them,eh? Doing that will provoke more conflict and react from NGO. And if you ask why using the iron chain, again the reason is very simple: they can cut and escape if using other material eg. rope. This is more emphasize since the time they caught, these people had all their stuff -- all they take to live in the country including, of cause, knifes for cooking -- with them