By mid-march, nearly 5,000 Cambodian workers had returned from Thailand through the international border checkpoint in Oddar Meanchey province, with nearly 300 testing positive for the coronavirus, according to a summary report seen by The Post on March 15.
Provincial administration spokesman Phal Lim said that 4,750 workers had returned home from March 1-13, with 200 to 500 returning daily. Of the 4,750 returnees, 278 were detected with the virus.
“In March, most days we had two or three hundred migrant workers returning a day, although there were some busy days where we processed more than 500. Most of the returnees are vaccinated, some of them with a booster. There were some who were not, however.
“The unvaccinated were typically those workers who had been made redundant in Thailand,” he told The Post.
He noted that when returnees tested negative, they were allowed to continue on to their native provinces. The migrants were unable to return to Thailand as the two governments had not yet officially reopened the borders.
Moeun Tola, executive director of the Centre for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL) identified three reasons workers continued to return home, other than to receive vaccinations.
He said the first reason was that the workers had completed their contracts and could not renew them. The second was the number of businesses which had closed or downsized owing to the widespread Covid outbreak in Thailand. The third was that there were many Cambodians working in Thailand illegally and they were often allegedly persecuted by Thai authorities, leading to many of them deciding to return home.
Chou Bun Eng, permanent vice-chair of the National Committee for Counter Trafficking, said previously that more than 260,000 migrant workers had returned home since the onset of the pandemic – most of them from Thailand.
She said that as the virus spreads to other countries in the region, it severely impacted economic systems, leading many factories and farms to shut down almost completely. This resulted in lost jobs and income, especially for unskilled and low-income workers.
“When Thailand first announced the closure of its borders in March 2020, there was a tsunami of returning Cambodian workers,” she added.