Thousands of Returning Migrant Workers From China Strain Resources in Myanmar’s Kokang Region

A Myanmar migrant worker returning from southwest China's Yunnan province show his passport at a checkpoint on the border, Feb. 3, 2020.

Officials in Kokang, a remote corner of Myanmar bordering China, said Thursday that they lack the capacity to quarantine thousands of migrant workers who have returned from jobs in China amid the coronavirus outbreak, and that they have asked the central government to come up with another solution.

The migrant workers — most of whom are from central Myanmar’s Magway region — have been returning to Myanmar since April 1 via the land border near Laukkai, capital of the Kokang Self-Administered Zone in northern Shan state.

The laborers had worked at chicken plants, on farms, and in factories in southwest China’s Yunnan province.

Upon entry into Myanmar at the border, they have been sent to mandatory quarantine centers and camps set up by health teams along the Shan state border regions, including Kokang.

The Myanmar government requires returning migrant workers to be quarantined for 14 days to ensure they are not infected with the COVID-19 virus.

Soe Nyunt Lwin, Shan state’s minister of planning and the economy, said Laukkai has the capacity to accommodate about 600 returning workers at a time.

“They are returning in groups of 100 or 200 workers per day,” he said. “We planned to quarantine them at the border, but Laukkai has the capacity to accommodate about 600 of them in 11 centers due to several challenges, including water shortages.”

“We are requesting other options from the central government,” he said. “What we are planning is to send these workers directly back to Magway on chartered buses or trains, then quarantine them in their home regions.”

In the meantime, workers have been living in temporary makeshift camps in the township soccer stadium and in drug-rehabilitation centers. They now are being moved into schools, officials said.

“We are facing many difficulties such as finding them places of refuge and dealing with food and water shortages,” said Laukkai township administrator Ngwe Doe. “They recently have been placed at schools.”

Aung Kyaw Moe, chairman of the Laukkai Red Cross, said the current number of returning migrant workers reached 1,100 on Thursday, though not all of them had been placed in quarantine.

“Up to yesterday evening, there were 1,073 people, and they were placed in seven camps,” he said. “On Thursday morning, that number grew to about 1,100.”

The daily cost for food per migrant worker is about 4,000 (U.S. $2.76), he added.

Myanmar forces and the rebel Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, also known as the Kokang Army, have engaged in fighting in the region in past years with a major clash in 2015 that prompted then-president Thein Sein to declare a three-month period of martial law there.

The ethnic Chinese insurgents have refused to join Myanmar’s peace process to end decades of civil wars between the government military and several ethnic armed organizations.

Reported by Kan Thar for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Maung Maung Nyo. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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