Cambodian workers are increasingly looking to illegally cross back into Thailand for work, a labor rights group said on Thursday, after a report showed more than 700 migrants were arrested this year for such crossings.
Provincial authorities, however, denied that Cambodians were making it back into Thailand.
Labor rights group Central issued a report this week on migrant workers during the first seven months of 2021, and said thousands had been smuggled to work abroad despite Covid-19.
Some 741 Cambodians were arrested by Thai and Cambodian authorities, the report said.
Central’s program officer Dy Thehoya said that in the past month illegal crossings were still continuing into Thailand. He added that most workers arrested were fully vaccinated, suggesting that workers who were inoculated were attempting to return to Thailand to find work.
Thailand has faced a severe Covid-19 Delta variant outbreak, which led to many migrants’ workplaces shutting down. Many Cambodians have been returning home due to joblessness in Thailand.
However, the outbreak in Thailand has eased, and workers still in Thailand said their situations had recently improved.
Thehoya said border corridors in Battambang and Banteay Meanchey provinces were seeing the most activity.
The migration was driven by poverty, lack of farmland, inability to find decent work and debt, he said.
“They dare to take risk of the infection, but they won’t sleep and wait until their stomachs are harmed. It means that they are more worried about their stomachs than being infected with Covid,” he said.
Battambang provincial administration spokesman Siem Bunrithy, however, said border crossings into Thailand had ceased in August due to police crackdowns.
“Oh. Recently, there has been no such case,” Bunrithy said.
Banteay Meanchey provincial administration spokesperson Ros Sophany said authorities were stopping would-be migrants on the Cambodian side of the border.
“In the cases that they return [to Thailand], mostly our police forces along the border have caught them at our Cambodian border,” Sophany said.
The Interior Ministry’s immigration department director Kirt Chantharith could not be reached for comment.
According to the Central report, more than 24,000 Cambodian workers in Thailand returned home in June and July amid the neighboring country’s Delta outbreak.