As many as 3,000 Lao workers have returned home during the last two months, crossing the border from Thailand after losing their jobs amid business shut-downs due to coronavirus fears, sources in Laos say.
Hundreds of thousands of the 2.8 million foreign workers in Thailand returned to neighboring countries Laos, Myanmar, and Cambodia after losing their jobs when their employers ran into economic hardships as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to NGOs and governments.
Laos continues to see migrant workers return home, the flow slowed by restrictions imposed to fight the pandemic, in addition to the more than 200,000 who’ve already returned from Thailand.
“In the last two months there have been from 2,000 to 3,000 returnees. We don’t know the exact number,” an official at the Labor and Social Welfare Department in the capital Vientiane told RFA’s Lao Service this week.
“After returning from Thailand, some of the Lao workers have come into the capital, and some have gone to other provinces,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“They’re coming back because of the COVID-19 pandemic, factory closures, and unemployment,” he added.
Thailand, which has reported fewer than 3,200 cases overall with 58 deaths, has started to open cautiously after going a month without a confirmed COVID-19 case. But job opportunities, particularly in the tourism and service sectors, are not expected to recover rapidly.
“Many Lao workers have gone home because the shops and stores are still closed,” one worker told RFA on June 23. “Only a few are still open, and those that are open are accepting only two or three workers.”
Waiting for orders
Around 20 Lao workers receive permission each day from the governor of Thailand’s Mukdahan province to cross the border to return home, a Thai official at the Second Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge border checkpoint said.
“But for travelers coming in [to Thailand], this border gate is not open yet. We’re waiting for an order from the government,” he said.
A Lao labor official in Savannakhet province meanwhile said that up to 600 Lao workers have already returned from Thailand so far in June.
“Some of the returnees would like to go back to their jobs in Thailand, but in order to go back to Thailand right now they will have to have proper permission and be certified by a doctor to be in good health.”
“They will also have to pay the costs of being quarantined in Thailand by themselves,” he added.
Almost 200,000 Lao workers have now returned home since Thailand opened its border crossings with Laos to let them cross.
Laos’ Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare has meanwhile been registering information about Lao citizens who have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic, the first step in what workers hope will be a government response to help them get through tough times, sources in Laos said last month.
Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Richard Finney.