In my three years in Cambodia, I've never seen anything like it.
I am working at the Samaritan's Purse distribution point set up at the Thai-Cambodian border in Poipet to provide food and water to the 100,000+ Cambodians returning home. I think about how Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt and imagine it felt similar to this: a chaotic mess of traffic mixed in with thousands of people flooding the streets, bringing only whatever belongings they can carry in their hands.
Around 400,000 Cambodians work in Thailand, seeking better economic futures than their home can offer them. However, many cannot afford the documents to migrate legally, and a large percentage are present in Thailand illegally, without passports or work permits. One of Samaritan's Purse Cambodia's largest projects is Safe Migration and Trafficking Awareness (SMTA), working to equip and educate Cambodians to migrate for work legally and know if they are in a potential trafficking situation.
On Wednesday, the SMTA staff were alerted than thousands of Cambodians were returning from Thailand via Poipet, the border town where the SMTA project is located. Staff left their yearly retreat early to return to Poipet and assess the situation. They found the border teeming with people as trucks arrived at the border continually, full of returning migrant workers.
The SMTA staff set up tents to shelter the workers from the monsoon rains and began handing out emergency food and water packets, and trafficking awareness brochures. They were joined by other non-government organizations and by SP community volunteers. They also handed out hygiene kits with toothbrushes and wet wipes - a critical need when workers have already been traveling for days with no access to clean water or toilets.
Here in Poipet we are seeing thousands of men, women, and children shipped around like cattle. Many have already traveled a couple of days to get to the border and have even slept overnight on the Thai side, waiting to cross over.