Relatives of Dead Cambodian Migrant Worker Call on Embassy For Help With Return of His Remains

Hok Suon, who worked in a chicken processing plant, died after contracting the COVID-19 virus.
2021.08.18
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Cambodian migrant workers (L) are quarantined in Thailand's capital Bangkok, amid a surge in coronavirus cases, June 21, 2021. A Cambodian migrant worker (R) infected with the coronavirus dies at a chicken processing plant in eastern Thailand's Chonburi province, Aug. 14, 2021.
Photos courtesy of migrant workers and a video screenshot from CENTRAL/Facebook

The relatives of one of two Cambodian migrant workers who died this week in Thailand from COVID-19 have called on the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok for help with having the ashes of their loved one sent home, as more laborers contract the respiratory virus amid a surge in infection rates.

Many migrant workers in Thailand have become infected with the COVID-19 virus, with case numbers climbing in Southeast Asia because of the highly contagious Delta variant. About 1,000 Cambodian migrant workers in the country have now contracted the virus, with some being treated in hospitals or quarantined at the factories where they work.

On Wednesday, Cambodia recorded a total of 87,190 confirmed coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, including 593 new ones, and 1,730 total related fatalities, including 12 new deaths, according to the Health Ministry.

The situation has been more serious in neighboring Thailand, a nation of 70 million people, where nearly 969,000 total confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 20,515 new ones, were recorded on Wednesday. Nearly 8,300 total related deaths, including 312 new fatalities, were also recorded, according to the Ministry of Public Health.

Among the fatalities, Hok Suon, 39, and Chhorn Chiva, 35, both worked at a chicken processing plant in Chonburi province, southwest of Bangkok, and died on Aug. 14, a week after they became infected with the virus.

Vat David, whose younger brother-in-law Hok Suon died after a brief illness, told RFA on Monday that Thai authorities had cremated Hok Suon’s body but had not returned his ashes.

“I would like the Cambodian Embassy to help contact them [the Thai government] because I don’t know where to get his ashes,” Vat David told RFA, adding that he was angry with Thai authorities for allegedly not giving his brother proper medical treatment.

He said that if his brother-in-law had been in Cambodia, he would still be alive.

Cambodia has one of the highest percentages of COVID-19 vaccinations among its adult population in the World Health organization’s Western Pacific Region, according to a recent post on the Facebook page of the United Nations in Cambodia.

RFA could not reach the family members of Chhorn Chiva or the Cambodian Embassy for comment.

Workers at risk for COVID-19

About two million Cambodians out of the country’s population of nearly 17 million worked in Thailand before the exodus of laborers amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to the 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.

Many Cambodian migrant workers are at risk for the COVID-19 virus because they lack the money to pay for transportation back to Cambodia or cannot access public health care in Thailand after entering the country illegally to work.

Loeng Sophon, a CENTRAL worker based in Bangkok, said that Thai authorities have cremated the bodies of migrant workers who have died from the COVID-19 virus and have tried to contact their families to deliver the ashes.

But he added that it was impossible for families to obtain the ashes without intervention by the Cambodian Embassy.

“If we don’t have documents and relatives, they [the Thai authorities] won’t give them the ashes, but with help from Cambodian Embassy, it will speed up the process,” he said.

Thousands of Cambodian migrant workers infected with the coronavirus in Bangkok and Chonburi province are living in rented rooms and at construction sites without proper treatment.

Kim Leng, a Cambodian migrant laborer in Chonburi province, said he and his wife contracted the virus 10 days ago, but that officials had helped him by providing medication. After he gets better, he plans to return to Cambodia to avoid a second infection, he said.

“There is no space to stay in the hospital,” he said, adding that he was lucky to get paid his salary before falling ill.

The best option for migrant workers now is to return to Cambodia, Loeng Sophon said, urging the government to facilitate the laborers’ return to lower their risk of getting sick.

Cambodia is currently allowing migrant workers to return home after the government reopened the borders on Aug. 13.

Officials had sealed off the crossings in eight provinces on July 29 amid a third outbreak of the COVID-19 virus that also was sweeping through neighboring Thailand.

Many migrant workers infected with the respiratory virus told RFA in earlier reports that they wanted to return to Cambodia because they could not afford medical treatment in Thailand.

But with the recent land border closures and with having lost their jobs or being ordered into quarantine by Thai officials, they said they had no income to pay for their daily living expenses.

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

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