More than 100 Cambodians students and workers stranded in Malaysia for up to four months without an income landed on a flight back home Tuesday, weeks after Prime Minister Hun Sen walked back a refusal to assist their return citing the threat of the coronavirus pandemic.
The 115 Cambodian nationals, who were ferried back with the help of the Embassy of Cambodia in Kuala Lumpur, had been among 143 that lost their jobs amid the outbreak and lacked the resources to go home. The remaining 28 did not seek support from the embassy, sources told RFA’s Khmer Service, though some had since left Malaysia.
Those who returned Tuesday were tested for COVID-19—the disease caused by the coronavirus—and will remain in isolation for two weeks before they can travel on to their hometowns.
Mat Tosry, who is eight months pregnant, said she was happy to return to Cambodia and excited to continue on to Tboung Khmum province to see her four children once she is medically cleared to do so.
“Nothing can compare this feeling—I can’t even sleep,” she said.
“In Cambodia, life is easier because even if I don’t have a [full time] job, I can just work on a corn plantation and earn around U.S. $5.00 a day to support my family.”
Another Cambodian who returned from Malaysia on Tuesday named Sreang Sam Ouen said she is excited to be home, but also concerned about her finances.
She said that being jobless in Malaysia for the past four months had left her unable to pay back a loan she took out in Cambodia, but that she also owes money in Malaysia.
“I’m sad about my return because I owe money to the bank,” she said.
“Three days after I arrived in Malaysia, everything closed down. If [the government] had allowed me to return sooner, I wouldn’t be in debt.”
Malaysia recorded its first COVID-19 case on Feb. 3 and issued a movement of control order on March 25, which remained in effect until June 9. Cambodia recorded its first case on Jan. 27 and issued orders to shut down schools and entertainment venues, as well as its borders with neighboring Laos and Vietnam, in March.
On April 7, Hun Sen announced that he would not provide assistance to the 143 Cambodian nationals stranded in Malaysia, citing fears of a viral spread, but rescinded his order on April 27. However, the group of 115 people were unable to return until Tuesday.
Dy Thehoya, program officer at Cambodia’s Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights, welcomed their return, but urged the government to continue working with its embassies to help unemployed workers abroad to return home.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.