Man held over border extortion

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Cambodian migrant workers wait at the Poipet International Border Checkpoint. Poipet Immigration Police

A man was arrested at the Poipet International Border Checkpoint on Thursday for extorting migrant workers.

The arrest comes amid rising allegations that Cambodian border officials stationed at the checkpoint have provided “unofficial VIP services” to extort money from Cambodian migrant workers returning from Thailand for the Khmer New Year holiday.

The Facebook page of the Poipet International Checkpoint on Thursday showed the image of a man with a brief description saying he had been extorting migrant workers.

“Arrests of the migrant worker extortionists are carried out regularly. Please contact [border] officials directly to avoid being cheated and losing money,” said the post.

The Post sent a message to the page to seek clarification from Khem Chetra, the immigration police bureau chief at the checkpoint, but the officer in charge of the page replied that officials were busy preparing documents surrounding the suspect’s arrest.

Poipet International Checkpoint chief of general staff Sem Makara could not be reached for comment on Thursday, while Poipet town police chief Om Sophal said he was not aware of the arrest.

Migrant workers and travellers crossing the international checkpoint have claimed that on the occasion of Khmer New Year when migrant workers flock in from Thailand, border officials at the checkpoint had conspired with agents to sell VIP tickets at a cost of 350 baht ($7.86) for those who wanted to quickly cross without having to queue.

Selling VIP tickets to provide unofficial services at the international checkpoint is considered corruption and against the orders of the General Department of Immigration, which has instructed all border checkpoint officials to attentively perform their duties and protect the interests of citizens.

The General Department of Immigration said: “All police officers of all border checkpoints must keep an eye out and facilitate the crossing of Cambodian citizens and foreigners across borders at all times – especially migrant workers who work in Thailand – during the upcoming Khmer New Year without accepting money [from them].”

Sam Chankea, Banteay Meanchey provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, who previously brought up the issue, told The Post on Thursday that agents selling VIP tickets to migrant workers at international border checkpoints would surely benefit the authorities there. If not, the officials would not do such things, he said.

“If the authorities attentively [did their jobs], there wouldn’t be such activities. However, they will take the risk if they benefit from it. As the old saying goes: ‘Only when the ghost indoors extends their hand, does the forest ghost come in,’” he said.

However, in response to the increasing number of complaints, Poipet International Checkpoint officials issued a clarification letter on Sunday, denying that there had been a demand for 350 baht for Cambodian migrant workers in exchange for VIP stamping as alleged by Facebook users.

On the contrary, the authorities facilitated the crossing of national and international tourists, especially migrant workers, who were en route to their hometowns for the Khmer New Year, they said.