Cambodian migrants return empty-handed from Thailand

Cambodian migrants return empty-handed from Thailand
This photo taken on June 18, 2014 shows Cambodian migrant workers Phan Chamnan (L), his wife Chea Sokla (C) and their daughter standing with their belongings after returning home in Banteay Meanchey province, after crossing the Thai-Cambodian border.

PHUM LUONG, Cambodia - Fearing arrest by Thailand's new army rulers, Chea Sokla fled across the border to Cambodia. But, like many others, she returned to a hard-scrabble village with no home, no jobs and no idea of what lies ahead.

After seven years spent working illegally on building sites in neighbouring Thailand, she crossed the border on Wednesday along with her husband and seven-year-old daughter, returning to home soil with 220,000 fellow Cambodians.

That figure, by some estimates, could be the entire undocumented Cambodian population in Thailand. Rumours about the killings of undocumented migrant labourers under a threatened crackdown by Thailand's new junta propelled the family to flee the country carrying just a few bags of clothes.

In Thailand, Sokla, 35, and her husband Phan Chamnan, 29, were able to put aside nearly $250 each month as construction workers - allowing them to send money to relatives back home.

They saved a meagre US$15 (S$18.70) a month doing menial jobs in Cambodia and Sokla said the family's work prospects were bleak in her husband's home village Phum Luong in Banteay Meanchey, one of Cambodia's poorest provinces.

"We are empty-handed. We don't even own a rice field," Sokla told AFP. "We don't see any light for our future."

Experts say the sudden return of tens of thousands of Cambodian workers may put a huge strain on the poor country. The World Bank estimates that 20 per cent of the Cambodian population lives below the poverty line, or less than $1.25 per person per day.

Many will return to provinces "where they won't really have an income, they may not have somewhere to live... we don't know how long they will be prepared to stay there for", said Joe Lowry, spokesman for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Bangkok.

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