Chinese Migrants Cross Illegally Into Laos, Vietnam Amid Renewed COVID Fears

laos-phongsaly-072920.jpg A map showing Phongsaly province in Laos on the border with China.

Over 30 Chinese migrants were deported from Laos last week after they were caught entering the country illegally, sparking concerns over border controls as new cases of COVID-19 infection begin to appear in Laos and in neighboring Vietnam.

The 34 had crossed into Phongsaly province’s Yot Ou district from the southern Chinese province of Yunnan on July 19 and were quickly spotted by area residents, who alerted Lao police, a district police official told RFA’s Lao Service on July 28.

“They came in and somebody on a large bus was there waiting for them,” the police official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “They were held for one day and then deported back to their own country.”

The Chinese, who were arrested for violations of the immigration law, told police they had entered Laos as tourists, the official said.

“They entered Laos illegally,” a member of the provincial task force for COVID-19 control and prevention confirmed to RFA on July 28. “They were all Chinese and were deported. We handed them over to the Chinese police.”

The Chinese did not enter the district’s Long Thang village when they arrived, but walked along a small road toward the main road nearby, a village official said.

“They were looking at some kind of paper while they walked. It might have been a map,” he said.

A district health worker said that none of the detained Chinese showed signs of fever when their temperatures were taken, but a resident of the district’s Marythou village about 20 km. away voiced concern that unrestricted travel across the border will leave Laos exposed to COVID-19.

“We’re afraid that the Chinese will bring the virus to us,” he said.

Laos shares a 250-mile (420 km) land border with China’s Yunnan province. Scholars who monitor Chinese migration into Laos put the population of Chinese in the country of 7 million at 200,000 in 2006, mostly recent immigrants, with some 10,000 coming every year.

LInks to foreign arrivals

New cases of COVID infection in Laos and Vietnam have been linked to recent foreign entry into those countries, both from China and  from other countries.

In Laos, a 32-year-old South Korean technical expert working on the Nam Ngiep 1 dam project in Bolikhamxay province tested positive on July 23 after flying from Japan to Laos’ Vientiane International Airport via South Korea.

Meanwhile, Vietnam on July 23 confirmed two new cases of infection, breaking a streak of no new cases in 99 days, and at least 18 were confirmed this week in the coastal city of Danang, with three others also listed in the nearby province of Quang Nam and one in Quang Ngai, according to state media reports.

Vietnam had previously been among the most successful countries in tackling COVID-19, reporting no deaths among its 95 million people—a record that was attributed to effective contact tracing, strict quarantines, early testing and residual wariness of China after a 2003 outbreak of SARS.

Vietnamese officials in Danang and other cities and provinces have meanwhile discovered dozens of Chinese who entered the country illegally and were found staying in local hotels and other facilities in July.

On July 29, Deputy Minister of Defense Col Gen. Le Chiem chaired an emergency meeting with other government departments to urge strict handling of cases of illegal entry into Vietnam, noting that Vietnamese border forces had detained over 15,000 people who had crossed into the country without permission since late January.

All of these had been sent to quarantine centers in various locations and were being watched for signs of ill health, he said, according to state media reports.

Two days before, on July 27, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc called on the ministries of defense and public security to maintain strict border controls, especially at crossings and border gates, urging responsible authorities in all provinces to make efforts to identify illegal immigrants and place them under medical observation.

The Vietnam-China land border is 870 miles (1,450 km) long and crosses thinly populated mountainous areas inhabited by ethnic minorities of the two countries.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Huy Le. Written in English by Richard Finney.


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