Cambodia’s Hun Sen Orders Quarantine, Treatment for Workers Returning From Thailand

Cambodia and Laos face an exodus from Thailand of impoverished and sick migrant workers.
Cambodia’s Hun Sen Orders Quarantine, Treatment for Workers Returning From Thailand Cambodian migrant workers travel in military trucks to their home provinces after crossing the Thai-Cambodian border in a file photo.

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday ordered border authorities to set up quarantine centers to receive hundreds of Cambodian migrant workers, many infected with COVID-19, desperate to return home from Thailand, while neighboring Laos also struggled with an exodus of sick laborers from the kingdom.

Officials had sealed off crossings in eight Cambodian provinces on July 29 with orders to keep them closed until Aug. 12, amid a third outbreak of the COVID-19 virus caused by the highly contagious Delta variant that is also sweeping through neighboring Thailand.

In a directive Friday, Hun Sen ordered Cambodia’s Sub-Committee on Border Management to work with provincial and municipal authorities to set up quarantine facilities and provide medical treatment for those returning home, with workers later given transport back to their hometowns.

One worker stranded near the Boeung Trakoun border gate in Cambodia’s Banteay Meanchey province said that authorities had recently distributed plastic sheeting to around 400 workers for use as temporary shelters until they are cleared to go home.

“We are staying at a military base inside Cambodia now, but we don’t have a quarantine center to go to yet,” the worker told RFA’s Khmer Service, asking that his name not be used in order to protect his identity.

“Conditions are very difficult on the border,” the worker added. “To get across while the border was closed, we had to take a short cut through the forest. Some of us have babies, and the babies’ cries echoed all through the forest.”

“I had to run through the forest even though I was sick,” the worker said.

Around 200 workers are now stranded along the Thai border across from Banteay Meanchey province, provincial deputy police chief Oum Sophal told RFA on Thursday, adding that  provincial authorities are now working together with the Cambodian consulate in Thailand’s Sa Keo province to bring help to those in need.

“We visit Cambodian workers who are stranded and provide them with some food every day,” Oum Sophal said.

'They are very miserable'

Hundreds of workers were left stranded on the Thai border when Cambodian authorities closed the crossings and barred them from returning home, Lueng Sophon—a worker with the local NGO Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL)—told RFA on Thursday.

COVID-19 infections may be spreading even more quickly among them now because of the crowded conditions in which they’re living, he said.

“The workers who have made the decision to return to Cambodia really had no other option available to them,” he said, adding, “The Cambodian government should put more measures in place to help them and provide them with treatment, and not just let them wander along the border.”

“There they are living in tents, lack food, and face many difficulties, and they are very miserable,” he said.

Around two million Cambodians out of the country’s population of nearly 17 million work in Thailand, according to figures provided by CENTRAL. Thailand is the main destination for migrant workers from neighboring Southeast Asian countries who take relatively low-wage jobs in labor-intensive sectors including agriculture, construction, fishing, and manufacturing.

The Cambodian Embassy in Thailand has said that it cannot help migrant workers infected with COVID, and that it is the responsibility of their employers to provide them with adequate food and accommodation, sources told RFA in an earlier report.

Returns to Laos restricted

In neighboring Laos, authorities in Savannakhet province are now limiting the number of Lao workers allowed to cross the border from Thailand, citing fears of a further spread of COVID-19 and a lack of facilities to hold those returning home in quarantine, Lao sources say.

Around 200-300 or more have recently crossed into the province each day, but no more than 150 each day will now be allowed in, with the rest required to wait in Thailand until more space is made available, sources say. Authorities are now urging Lao workers to cross instead through border gates in other provinces such as Kham Mouane, Champassack, and Vientiane.

Of the nearly 4,000 Lao workers who returned from Thailand through Savannakhet during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Laos, around 2,000 were found to be infected and are now being treated in provincial hospitals, sources said.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer and Lao Services. Translated by Tin Zakaria and Sidney Khotpanya. Written in English by Richard Finney.


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