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Cambodian workers flee out of fear

Raids by armed soldiers on places with illegal immigrants spark rumours

LEGAL AND illegal Cambodian workers have been flocking to their home country amid rumours the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) will crack down on them or close border-crossing points.

Rumours have spread fast, especially after soldiers led numerous raids on places suspected of sheltering illegal immigrants recently.

Department of Employment director-general Pravit Khiengpol, however, firmly denied the rumours.

"Some ill-intentioned people have spread this false stuff," he said.

He insisted all 441,569 legally registered Cambodian workers could still work in Thailand as usual.

He disclosed that relevant authorities had in fact planned to extend the grace period for registered foreign workers who had not yet completed all procedures in the nationality-proving process. Without the extension, they would have to leave Thailand by August 11.

Since the NCPO came to power via a bloodless coup last month, military presence has increased across the country. Soldiers have spearheaded searches at many locations.

Speaking from Poi Pet in Cambodia, construction worker Chea Loeun - who returned from Thailand on Wednesday - said Cambodians feared of being arrested by the Thai Army.

"They said Cambodian migrants joined protests there," the 34-year-old told AFP by telephone over the phone. "Cambodia workers dare not stay in Thailand anymore."

Over 100 armed soldiers, policemen and administrative officials yesterday conducted a dawn raid at illegal workers' shelter zones in Tak. They arrested more than 100 illegal workers.

In Bangkok, Bang Na Police Station's deputy superintendent Lt-Colonel Passakorn Rattanapanadda announced the arrests of 123 illegal immigrants, mostly Cambodians, in his area.

In Kanchanaburi, another raid nabbed nine illegal foreign workers.

Issara Boonyoung, president and CEO of Kanda Group and an adviser to the Business Housing Association, expressed concerns that the NCPO's policy could hamper the construction industry.

"The industry needs more than one million foreign workers, most of whom are registered properly," he said. "It's just that some may have difficulty undergoing registration process, though."

He said the strict stance by the NCPO might delay ongoing constructions and the delivery of projects to customers.

LPN Development managing director Opas Sripayak asked for leniency for workers, pointing out that about half the construction workers in the country were foreigners. "We hope the rule can be relaxed to support business in the long run," he said.

Pravit said the country's business sector could face labour shortage due to the exodus.

"But they [businesses] may submit a request to hire new alien workers," he said.

Labour Ministry permanent secretary Jeerasak Sukonthachart said relevant officials were considering several measures aimed at facilitating the hiring of foreign workers, including seasonal employment options.


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