A friend of ours, Esther, has spent the last 5 months in Cambodia, working at our partner project, the Cambodian Hope Organisation. She sent us an update about how things are going currently. Please have a read, please pass it on and please pray. These are difficult and vital times for Cambodia.
As many of you know, Thailand has been in political unrest for half a year or so. Martial law is in place meaning the military has imposed strict restrictions such as a curfew at night, no more than 5 people coming together in a political meeting and no political rallies. However protests are still rife.
The most recent law imposed has been the forced removal of Cambodian workers in Thailand.
Over 1 million Cambodians are thought to be working in Thailand, some legally and some illegally. Many moved there for the promise of jobs; some take their whole families, while others send money back and a few travel across the border every day to work. Some work as farmers, some have more urban jobs like builders and some are forced into jobs like prostitution.
For years this has been fine, as both Cambodia and Thailand have both benefited from the workforce. However in the past few days Thailand have requested that Khmer people return to Cambodia. Cambodians are a massive workforce that Thailand has just lost.
It is a voluntary decision to come back to Cambodia, but people are afraid of being arrested, or worse, if they stay. A Cambodian told me that his friend had fled from Thailand because someone had been shot in front of him for refusing to leave. People are scared of the risk of staying in Thailand and feel it is safer to return to Cambodia. Is that really voluntary?
It has also been reported that some Thai people are dressing up in military uniform and telling Cambodians ‘give us 2000Baht (about 1/4 of a monthly wage) and we will ensure you get to safety’. The Cambodians trusted their word, but ended up being dumped on a road side, 2000 Baht poorer for the experience.
Cambodians are picked up in trucks; military trucks, coaches, buses, cattle-herding vehicles, dumper trucks etc and are taken to the Thai border where they are dropped. They are crammed into the cages worse than battery hens with no room to move and travel for many hours with few or no stops. Another Cambodian said ‘They are treating us like dirt. They collected people in a dumper truck and tipped up the crate when they got to the border and people poured out. Many broke their arms and legs’. There have been many crashes and 6 people have died at the Poipet border.
Up to 160,000 people are coming across the border every day and the smell is almost unbearable. It is a cocktail of rotting food, stale body odour and faeces.
Many charities are at hand to meet the demand of food; Samaritans Purse, World Vision, Red Cross along with the military and the Cambodian equivalent of Scouts and various Poipet businesses and NGO’s including CHO (Cambodian Hope Organisation). They provide them with food and drink before they make their journey to their home towns. The Cambodian Government have responded to the need of the thousands of Cambodians stranded at the Thai border by providing free transport to all provinces across Cambodia to ensure people can get to their hometowns.
The Thai border will be stepping up security to ensure Khmer people don’t return.
This suggests that trafficking will be prevented as it will be harder to smuggle people across the border. But in reality, they have just created 1,000,000 desperate people who will take any measure to feed themselves and their family. This will no doubt increase the risk of selling their children, themselves or even kidnapping other children to sell into prostitution. Desperate people are also vulnerable to falling into the hands of people with ‘amazing job offers’ who in reality seek to take advantage of them and potentially traffic them.
The crime rate across Cambodia will no doubt increase as 1 million people without jobs seek to feed their families. How can a developing country cope with an extra 1million people when they struggle to provide for the 14 million it already homes?
Please join with us in praying for Cambodia and Thailand. That the unrest would settle and that there would be peace and that Thailand would be a safe country once again. Also intercede for Cambodia as it seeks to provide the best for its people.