Rounded up by Thai authorities or simply afraid of violence, thousands of Cambodian workers and their families left Thailand on a mass exodus.
Unprepared, authorities and relief organizations struggled to keep up providing aid to returnees at Cambodia’s Poipet border. “The first days were sad, the trucks unloaded them as if they were rubbish”, a shop owner remembers. “There was nobody here to help them”.
As heavily packed trucks and buses continued to pour from the Thai side unloading thousands of men, women and children, authorities on the Cambodian side redirected the confused returnees to army trucks and police buses to be taken back to their provinces.
“We would never have gone to Thailand if we could find work here”, 23 year-old Samnang protests while he climbs up an army truck bound for his homeland in Siem Reap province. Along with his three sisters, Samnang left Cambodia to pick corn in Thailand over a year ago. Now back home, they fear not to find any work. “If the government lets us, we will go back to Thailand”, one of his sisters affirms.
While water, food and information booklets were distributed among returnees; some NGOs controversially provided religious literature as part of the new life orientation packages.