February 1, 2023

Cambodian Border Chaos Averted, But Future Uncertain for Irregular Migrants

Cambodia – As thousands of irregular migrants continue to pour across the Cambodian border from Thailand, IOM is working to provide transport for vulnerable people who lack the means to get home.

Some 15,000 people crossed into Cambodia at the border town of Poi Pet last night, following an effort to regularize migration by the military authorities in Thailand. IOM estimates that close to 25,000 people have re-entered Cambodia since Saturday.

The vast majority work in construction and agriculture, where they are paid about USD 10 per day. Most are male, but about 30 per cent are women, while some 2,000 children are also part of the exodus.

Meng Hout (35) left his farm in Batambang Province a month ago with his wife Srey Mao (31) and their children Meng Hak (7) and Slev Hou (15 months). “I have debts of almost $1,000 and wasn’t making enough from my farm so I took a job as a fruit picker across the border,” he says. Due to the uncertainty in Thailand, the family decided to leave and piled into a bus taxi with 35 other people to reach Poi Pet.

IOM’s team on the border has struggled to find enough buses to get people away from the border and back to their home provinces. But the situation was temporarily eased overnight with the arrival of over 100 Cambodian military trucks. More are arriving today.

“The overwhelming priority is to secure enough large vehicles to prevent people being stuck here for a long time in less than ideal conditions,” said Brett Dickson, IOM’s team leader in Poi Pet. “Many of these people are severely economically disadvantaged and have spent all their savings, if they had any, to get this far.”

Judging by the flow of migrants, and anecdotal evidence from within Thailand, the numbers crossing may swell still further and IOM is working with partners to receive them. UN agencies, NGOs and the Red Cross have started to arrive in Poi Pet to deliver water and provide shelter, and to identify priority cases, including women travelling with children.

Smaller numbers are coming through at border posts in other provinces, and still more may be crossing unofficially through forests and open country. There are an estimated 150,000 Cambodian irregular migrants in Thailand and the long-term social and economic impact on both countries is uncertain.

“These men, women and children are going back to the poorest, least developed parts of the country,” said Dickson. “Looking to the future they will certainly need support to reintegrate and build new lives, but for the moment our number one priority is ensuring their safe and dignified passage back to their homes.”

For more information please contact:

In Phnom Penh Leul Mekonnen, Email: lmekonnen@iom.int, Tel.  +855 12 900 131

In Poi Pet: Brett Dickson, Email: bdickson@iom.int, Tel. +855 12 222 132 Or

Joe Lowry, Email: jlowry@iom.int, Tel. +66 81 870 8081

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