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Cambodian Migrant Workers Rush Back As Thai Border Closed

Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand return to Cambodia, after Thai government announced border closure, in efforts to control spread of coronavirus, on March 21, 2020.

The government in Thailand closed at least 19 checkpoints, including the major border crossing at Poipet town, causing thousands of Cambodian migrant workers to rush back to the country over the weekend.

The Thai government closed 19 checkpoints on Monday, only allowing the transport of goods, including smaller pushcarts used by transportation workers ferrying products across the border, reported the Bangkok Post.

Reports have come in over the weekend of thousands of Cambodian migrant workers returning to the country before the border crossings were closed.

Meng Huy, a 43-year-old market seller in Rong Kleu Market just across the border in Thailand, said he crossed back with his wife immediately after finding out about the announcement.

“I only worry about those who come from Bangkok or from China and enter Cambodia,” he said. “I am not worried about my family because we only stayed in the market and had our temperatures checked by both Thai and Cambodian authorities.”

Interior Minister Sar Kheng, speaking at a public event in Phnom Penh, said that around 15,000 Cambodians had come back from Thailand and entered Cambodia through Poipet checkpoint over the weekend.

“Actually, we do not have enough capacity to monitor all of them; neither do we have ability to quarantine all them for 14 days,” he said.

Instead, he asked provincial authorities to instruct people returning from Thailand to enter into self-quarantine for 14 days.

“Please explain to them not to touch each other,” he said. “If there is any one in the village who is positive, quarantine the whole family or the whole village.”

The minister’s suggestion to quarantine an entire village is the first instance of a government official suggesting a some form of a lockdown, beyond the restrictions already in place.

However, it was unclear how the government would monitor this large influx of people, given that it has yet to enforce any large-scale restrictions on people’s movements, except for shutting down schools and banning public gatherings at movie theaters, concerts etc.

Sum Chankea, Banteay Meanchey provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, says the authorities were not adequately prepared to enforce health and safety measures for a large group of people.

“It is authorities’ responsibility. They have not prepared anything. They only talk. So where can we keep all of the [people]?” he said.

VOA Khmer could not reach Or Vandine, Ministry of Health spokesperson, and Um Reatrey, Banteay Meanchey provincial governor. The Thai Embassy in Cambodia did not respond to requests for comment.

In another voice message sent to officials and accessed by VOA Khmer, Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered provincial governors to convert provincial schools into make-shift hospital.

“We turn the school into a hospital at this stage because we are not opening any schools soon. We will extend school break if we need to,” he said, on the voice memo.