Joe Lowry of the International Organization of Migration was one of the many activists, humanitarian responders, politicians, and volunteers who gathered recently at the Thai-Cambodia border to witness a stunning migration of 10,000 people per day. “The sheer number of people is overwhelming,” he says to the camera as packed busses of Cambodians are unloaded in the border city of Poi Pet, and people carry their belongings in sacks and boxes over their heads.
In the first two weeks of June, according to the IOM, more than 250,000 Cambodians crossed back to their home country from Thailand, after a military junta overtook the Thai government.
While many wondered why so many Cambodian migrants suddenly fled Thailand, and if they had done so of their own will, Venerable Sovath, a Cambodian Buddhist monk and human rights defender, addressed another question in the video below, also taken at Poi Pet: why had so many Cambodians had migrated to Thailand in the first place, and what would they face upon their return?
The translation provided in a comment to the video on YouTube provides a rough understanding of Venerable Sovath’s commentary and interviews. In the first interview, a local opposition politician shares the context of Cambodia’s labor environment. For the past several months, he explains, factory workers in Cambodia have demonstrated nonviolently for higher wages and improved working conditions. Authorities have responded with violence, killing several protesters, injuring dozens, and locking up activists for months. The workers’ demands of earning a minimum of U.S. $160 per month have not been met. “So they find jobs outside the country, legally or not,” he says.
As Global Voices explains, many Cambodian workers move to Thailand for its $10 per day minimum wage, compared to no fixed wage in Cambodia, where workers earn among the lowest salaries in the region. In late June, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen addressed the crisis publicly for the first time. The Phnom Penh Post quoted him as stating, “Although wages here are lower than what you earn in Thailand, if you compare to fees you spend to get illegally to Thailand, it is not so much less… working in our country is safer.”
For more videos of the reverse migration from Thailand, see this video playlist on the Human Rights Channel.
Photo: Video still from Youtube user Sovath Loun of Cambodian migrant workers fleeing Thailand.