Cambodia Closes Border Crossings as COVID-19 Crisis Strands Migrant Workers in Thailand

Many workers who have lost their jobs or are in quarantine say they have no income for food.
2021-07-30
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Cambodia Closes Border Crossings as COVID-19 Crisis Strands Migrant Workers in Thailand Cambodian migrant workers stand in the backs of military trucks as they travel to their home provinces after crossing the Thai-Cambodia border in Poipet, northeastern Cambodia's Banteay Meanchey province, in a file photo.
AFP

Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand on Thursday blasted Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government for ordering provinces near the Thai border to close down border crossings as a preventive measure against a third wave of the coronavirus that has hit the Southeast Asian nation hard.

Officials sealed off the crossings in eight provinces on July 29 and will keep them closed until Aug. 12 amid the third outbreak of the COVID19 virus caused by the highly contagious Delta variant that is also sweeping through neighboring Thailand. Only those transporting goods and medical patients are allowed to cross the border.

Many migrant workers infected with the respiratory virus said they want to return to Cambodia because they cannot afford medical treatment in Thailand, but now find themselves locked out of their own country as it deals with a surge in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and related deaths.

And with having lost their jobs or been ordered into quarantine by Thai officials, they said they now have no income to pay for their daily living expenses.

“The government has sealed the borders of the eight provinces,” said Chhin Chhun, a 36-year-old Cambodian migrant laborer who works in construction in Thailand. “This measure is just like killing migrant workers. They let people die in Thailand because they don’t accept [migrant workers] as patients.”

Chhin Chhun said that three dozen of his colleagues had wanted to return home because they could not afford daily living expenses after Thai authorities quarantined them inside a room for more than a month but did not provide them with food.

“We were living in a foreign country, so who else could we rely on [except for the Cambodian government]? We couldn’t buy food without money,” he said, blaming Cambodian officials for border closures preventing other workers from returning home.

Another migrant worker, Long Sophoann, told RFA that about 100 laborers in a supermarket in Bangkok have been out of work for nearly two months without any help from local Thai authorities.

Some of the workers who are infected with the COVID-19 virus have been confined to their quarters and are treating themselves, he said.

“This is not acceptable [because] we can’t go home,” Long Sophoann said. “I would like to send a message to Prime Minister Hun Sen: Please help the workers so that we can return home safely.”

About two million Cambodians out of the country’s population of nearly 17 million work in Thailand, according to the Cambodian NGO Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL). Thailand is the main destination country for Cambodian migrant workers who take relatively low-wage jobs in labor-intensive sectors including agriculture, construction, fishing, livestock, and manufacturing, and in some service sectors.

The Cambodian Embassy in Thailand previously said that it cannot help migrant workers infected with the virus and that it is the responsibility of their employers to provide them with adequate food and accommodations, according to an earlier RFA report.

As of Friday, Cambodia recorded 76,585 total confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 668 new ones, and total deaths of 1,375, including 25 new fatalities, according to figures from the Ministry of Health.

The situation is worse in Thailand, a nation of nearly 70 million people, where many Cambodians go to perform manual labor for higher wages than they would earn at home. On Friday, the country recorded a total 578,375 COVID-19 cases, including 17,345 new ones, and 4,679 deaths, including 117 new related fatalities.

The Cambodian government also has stepped up coronavirus-related restrictions at home, preventing gatherings of more than 10 people and imposing a nighttime curfew from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m.

Dy The Hoya, a program officer at CENTRAL, said the Cambodian government’s measure is not good for migrant workers in Thailand who are suffering because they cannot return home during the health crisis.

“I urge [the government] to listen to those who are affected and to make policies that reflect the issues,” he said.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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