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PHNOM PENH – Cambodian migrant workers are flocking home ahead of Khmer New Year celebrations, which will officially be held from April 14 to 16, causing road congestion at the Cambodia-Thailand border.
Deputy Provincial Governor of Banteay Meanchey province Ngor Mengchruon said about 2,000 people, including Cambodian migrant workers, rushed into Cambodia through the Khlong Lek–Poipet border checkpoint on April 9 and 10, causing travel congestion on the Thai side.
“Thai border officials had not been well-prepared for such a huge number of travelers without notice,” he said.
While Mengchruon said he does not have official data to tell the exact number of Cambodian migrant workers coming back home to celebrate the new year, he made clear that a majority of them hold passports and enter the country legally, unlike in previous years.
“As an official of the provincial authorities, I was sent to the [border] to help with intervention and facilitation so that [people] could come back to Cambodia,” he said.
He also pointed out that the Banteay Meanchey province is providing food and water to the workers crossing the border, while his team is working along with the Thai authorities to expedite the crossing.
More than 150 kilometers North-East, Oddar Meanchey Deputy Governor Dy Rado said that in the past three days, many people also flocked to Cambodia through the province’s main international borders.
In a single day, 300 to 400 people crossed the border at Choam commune and about 200 people came back to Cambodia through O'Smach.
Rado said it seems to him that the number of migrant workers returning home this year is comparable to pre-pandemic times, even though he doesn’t have the official figures in his hands.
On national occasions, such as Khmer New Year or Pchum Ben, international borders with Thailand are usually packed with migrant workers coming home.
“I call on workers to be careful and take care of their health when coming to Cambodia,” said Rado.
Leung Sophon, a Thailand-based official from the Cambodian organization Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL), said the travel congestion mainly happened on April 9 and 10 when most of the Cambodian migrant workers traveled at once.
He added that it is the first year that migrant workers can massively come back home since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though the borders were already open last year, many couldn’t take the risk of not being able to return to work in Thailand and didn’t make the journey.
With many migrant workers being thrilled to finally come back, Sophon said some arrived at the border as soon as April 8 but could only enter Cambodia on April 10. Some others told him they wanted to go back to Thailand because they had waited for too long at the border.
“But many of them have [eventually] entered Cambodia,” said Sophon.
On April 8, eight Cambodian migrant workers were killed and seven others were injured in an accident between a passenger van and a container truck in Chon Buri province, South West of Bangkok, Thailand.