Four Hmong Men in Vietnam Walk for Days to Return to Rural Hometown After Coronavirus Layoffs

The group hiked and slept in the streets after running out of money following Hanoi’s lockdown.
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Four Hmong men walked from Hanoi to their hometown over 150 miles away in Yen Bai province, wearing only slip-on sandals in these photos published on Facebook August 30 and 31, 2021.
Facebook account of Giang A Khai

Four men from Vietnam’s Hmong ethnic minority have walked from the capital Hanoi to their remote rural hometown wearing only slip-on sandals after losing their jobs when the city shut down due to the coronavirus, the men told RFA.

Although Vietnam had been relatively successful in containing the pandemic in 2020 and the first few months of 2021, it has been struggling with a fourth wave that began in April. As confirmed cases climb, authorities have instituted and extended temporary lockdowns in the provinces and cities.

The lockdowns have led to unemployment for much of the country’s labor force, and many workers are struggling to survive on their savings.

“We are going home because we ran out of money,” said Giang A Khai, one of the four men making the 250-km (155-mile) trek from the capital to a tiny hamlet in the northern province of Yen Bai, not far from Vietnam’s border with China.

“I called the local authorities to ask for financial support from the Yen Bai government, but they said no, so we have to walk,” Khai told RFA’s Vietnamese service.

The 35-year old Khai and his three companions left Hanoi Monday and Sao A Cho, another member of the group, estimated that it would take three or four more days to walk the remaining 100 kilometers (62 miles) to Yen Bai.

leaving hanoi.jpeg
Three of the four men walk along a rural road early in their journey in this photo published Aug. 30, 2021. Credit: Facebook account of Giang A Khai

Khai has documented their journey on Facebook. Several posts on his account show the four hiking along the road wearing slip-on sandals, and others show their badly blistered feet. Along the way they had to beg for food and sleep on the roadside.

Another post shows the group on the road at the Yen Bai province border. The most recent post on Khai’s Facebook account contains a video of the four riding in the back of what appears to be a truck and indicates they made it home.

Though the Yen Bai government has no plan in place to help people returning home from provinces and cities in Vietnam’s north, it has announced that it would provide assistance to people returning from areas in the south.

In the south, Ho Chi Minh City has been a hotbed for the fourth wave, with the ministry of health attributing more than 221,000 confirmed cases to the country’s largest city, a little less than half of the country’s total caseload.

This photo, published Aug. 31, 2021 on Giang A Khai's Facebook account shows a blister one of the travelers suffered by walking a long distance wearing slip-on sandals. Credit: Facebook account of Giang A Khai

A group of people from Yen Bai who live in Ho Chi Minh City set up a group on Facebook to ask for help from their home province. The group has about 2,200 members, with about 60 percent of them saying they can only hold out another week before they run out of money.

The government of Luc Yen, a district in Yen Bai province, recently fined five people returning from Hanoi for “administrative offenses” during the pandemic.

Khai, Cho and their two companions are not the only Yen Bai natives traveling from Hanoi on foot. Several other groups have posted similar stories and pictures on Facebook, saying they also had to sleep on the streets.

RFA attempted to contact authorities in Yen Bai province but they did not respond.

The Hmong number about 1.4 million in Vietnam, a country of 98 million people.

As of Wednesday, Vietnam has confirmed 462,096 coronavirus cases and 11,064 deaths, according to statistics from the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine’s Coronavirus Resource Center.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Anna Vu. Written in English by Eugene Whong.


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