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“We Got in Line And Handed Them The Money,”Cambodian Migrants Heading Home for the Holidays

If we didn’t have any money they would not have allowed us to return [to Cambodia,]

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On April 9, Cambodian migrants trying to return home for Khmer New Year wait at a checkpoint at the Thai-Cambodian border. RFA

Thousands of Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand have flocked to the border along Cambodia’s Banteay Meanchey and Battambang provinces to return home for the Khmer New Year holiday. But many of the migrants say that before being allowed to return to Cambodia, they had to bribe both Thai and Cambodian border police.

The three-day holiday, running from Apr. 14-16, is the most important holiday in the country, and it is customary for Cambodians to return to their hometowns.

“We workers are not educated and we were afraid that we wouldn’t be able to return. We didn’t want any problems, so we just paid the officials,” said migrant worker Heng Chanhieng, in an interview with RFA’s Khmer Service Tuesday.

He said that when he was trying to cross through the border checkpoint in Battambag’s Kamrieng district he was asked to pay the equivalent of $6 to the Thai police and $3 to the Cambodian police, adding that nobody even dared to protest against the officials demanding the unofficial payments.

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We know that thousands of migrants work in Thailand. The government should have a policy to help them get through the border checkpoints faster without having to pay extra money, Pixabay

Another migrant, Lon Samnang, said he believes the Thai and Cambodian officers are in league with each other, colluding to extort the workers during the holiday season. He said that the officials demanded they put away their cellphones while collecting the money because they were afraid their pictures would be taken.

“If we didn’t have any money they would not have allowed us to return [to Cambodia,]” he said.

The migrant said he had to wait five hours before the police would even allow them to leave the border checkpoints.

Neth Phirum, meanwhile said police collected $10 from him during his return trip.

“We got in line and handed them the money,” he said, adding, “Nobody knows where that money went [or what it is for].”

Sok Kun, a Kamrieng immigration police officer denied that either the Thai or Cambodian police were taking bribes. He said the money was given to them voluntarily after the officials helped the migrants cross the border in an organized, timely manner.

“The money was their way of saying thanks,” he said.

The same situation was experienced by workers at the Poipet checkpoint in Banteay Meanchey’s Ou Chrov district.

Keo Soveacha said Wednesday that after he offered to pay a bribe, the Cambodian and Thai police split the proceeds.

“I wanted to speed up the process, so I said ‘I have $13,’” he said.

Dy Thehoya, a program officer for the Phnom Penh-based Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL), said he wants the government to stop the yearly extortion of the thousands of migrants returning home.

“We know that thousands of migrants work in Thailand. The government should have a policy to help them get through the border checkpoints faster without having to pay extra money,” he said.

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He said that when he was trying to cross through the border checkpoint in Battambag’s Kamrieng district he was asked to pay the equivalent of $6 to the Thai police and $3 to the Cambodian police, adding that nobody even dared to protest against the officials demanding the unofficial payments. Pixabay

Heang Kimsoeun, a social worker, filed a complaint Thursday to Cambodia’s Anti-Corruption Unit, asking them to investigate corruption along the border. The complaint said workers are made to pay $10-$11 to get through border checkpoints. He said that those responsible for the corruption should be brought to justice.

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“What are [the police] doing with that money? This is illegal,” he said.

RFA attempted to contact Thai officials for comment. The deputy immigration chief declined to answer any questions, whereas the spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs received questions but did not reply. (RFA)

Next Story

Strict Conservation Laws Result in Eviction of Hundreds of Indigenous Karen People in Thailand

After the military government took charge in 2014, it vowed to "take back the forest" and increase forest cover to about 40 percent of the total surface area from about a third.

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Salween River
A view of the Salween River is seen from a small Thai-Karen village on the Thai side of the river, Nov. 17, 2014. VOA

Hundreds of indigenous Karen people in Thailand face evictions from a national park that authorities wish to turn into a World Heritage Site, joining millions in a similarly precarious situation as authorities worldwide push tough .

The Kaeng Krachan is Thailand’s biggest national park, sprawled over more than 2,900 square kilometers (1,120 square miles) on the border with neighboring Myanmar.

Renowned for its diverse wildlife, it is also home to about 30 communities of ethnic Karen people, who have traditionally lived and farmed there — and is on a tentative list of world heritage sites.

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Last year the country’s top court ruled that about 400 who had been evicted in 2011 had no legal right over the land. Pixabay

The United Nations’ cultural agency (UNESCO) had referred the submission back to the Thai government in 2016, asking it to address “rights and livelihood concerns” of the Karen communities, and get their support for the nomination.

The Thai government plans to respond later this year, according to campaigners.

“The communities have not been consulted or reassured on their access to the forest,” said Kittisak Rattanakrajangsri of advocacy group Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact.

“The communities are not opposed to the heritage status,” he told Reuters. “They are just asking that they not be evicted, and that their land rights are secure — because if the park gets heritage status without that, there will be a great many more evictions.”

A spokesman for the forest department did not respond to requests for comment.

A spokesman for the U.N. human rights office (OHCHR) in Bangkok said they had recently facilitated a meeting between a rights organization working with the Karen, and Thai officials.

Worldwide, more than 250,000 people were evicted from protected areas in 15 countries from 1990 to 2014, according to Washington D.C.-based advocacy group Rights and Resources Initiative.

In India, more than 1.9 million indigenous families face evictions after their forest rights claims were rejected.

‘No legal rights’

Since Kaeng Krachan was declared a national park in 1981, hundreds of Karen — a hill tribe people thought to number about 1 million in Thailand — have been evicted, according to activists.

Last year the country’s top court ruled that about 400 who had been evicted in 2011 had no legal right over the land.

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In India, more than 1.9 million indigenous families face evictions after their forest rights claims were rejected. Pixabay

“The security of indigenous people in Thailand is so tenuous because they have no legal rights, and no recognition of their dependence on forests,” said Worawuth Tamee, an indigenous rights lawyer.

“The laws have made them encroachers,” he said.

A 2010 Cabinet resolution had called for recognizing the Karen people’s way of life and their right to earn a livelihood the traditional way. But this has not been implemented, said
Tamee.

After the military government took charge in 2014, it vowed to “take back the forest” and increase forest cover to about 40 percent of the total surface area from about a third.

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This has resulted in hundreds of reclamations from farmers and forest dwellers, according to research organization Mekong Region Land Governance.

“It is the biggest challenge facing indigenous people,” said Tamee. “Parks are not just for the enjoyment of city people and tourists. They are also the home of poor, indigenous people who have nowhere else to go.” (VOA)