Myanmar Workers Leave China Without Pay, Fearing Virus

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

Migrant workers returning to Myanmar from China’s Yunnan province because of coronavirus fears are walking away from their jobs without receiving the pay owed to them, as their Chinese employers try to discourage them from leaving, sources say.

Nearly 1,000 have crossed the border at Myanmar’s Chinshwehaw town since Jan. 28, with around 350 crossing each day at Laukkai, both in Myanmar’s Kokang Self-Administered Zone, sources say, adding that most had been employed in chili and eggplant plantations in remote areas of Yunnan.

Some are leaving without receiving their salary or money they have saved, because their bosses do not want them to leave, a resident of Yesagyo, a town in Myanmar’s Magway region near the border, told RFA’s Myanmar Service in an interview.

Others are meanwhile unable to leave, Ma San New Htay said.

“The bosses do not give them their full wages, or control their passports, IDs, or other documents. That’s why some workers cannot return home, even though they want to leave,” she said.

Also speaking to RFA, one returned worker said that many are now leaving China despite employers’ attempts to hold them back.

“They do not want us to return home, but we are afraid of the coronavirus,” the worker said, speaking on condition of anonymity.  “Therefore, we decided to leave without waiting to collect our full salary or the money we have saved since we started work.”

Most set out on foot

Because roads are closed, drivers have turned down offers of pay for transport, and most workers have now set out on foot for home, sources said, adding that local Chinese aid groups have set up shelters to support migrant workers as they walk along the road to the border with Myanmar.

Aung Naing Tun, an aid worker from Myanmar, said that he has gone into China to help bring workers home. Many are now stranded in Chinese markets near the border, he said.

“When we want to go into China, we have to inform the Chinese police and wait for permission, but they don’t allow everyone in,” he said.

Meanwhile, Myanmar health officials carefully screen returning workers at checkpoints on the border, Tun Tun, a health worker at the Chinshwehaw border crossing told RFA.

“Almost 1,000 workers have passed through here since Jan. 28,” he said, adding, “If we find people with fevers, we transfer them immediately to a hospital.”

Meanwhile, a health worker at Laukkai named Ye Tun said that the number of Chinese entering Myanmar at that crossing has dropped in recent days, while about 350 Myanmar migrant workers cross over from Yunnan each day.

Authorities in Myanmar’s Kokang region are now distributing leaflets instructing local people on how to prevent infection from the virus, sources said.

Reported by Kan Thar for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Nayrein Kyaw. Written in English by Richard Finney.


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