Cambodia has requested that Thailand provide medical treatment to Cambodian migrant workers who contract Covid-19 there as large numbers of workers continue to return home from both Thailand and Vietnam, many of whom carry the disease.

The request was made during a virtual meeting on August 25 between the Cambodian and Thai militaries.

Cambodia was represented by Lieutenant General Seng Thearin, deputy commander and chief of staff for military Region 5, while Thailand’s representative was Major General Kraipob Chaiyapunth, chief of staff for their first army region.

“General Seng Thearin requested that Thailand assist with the provision of medical treatment to Cambodian migrant workers who have Covid-19. He also requested that they help facilitate the return of workers who are in Thailand illegally but haven’t committed any other serious crimes,” the Region 5 said in a press release.

Thearin also requested that the Thai authorities increase their efforts to stop brokers on their side of the border who profit by arranging the illegal employment that induces the Cambodian migrant workers to travel there.

Significant flows of Cambodian migrant workers in Vietnam and Thailand continue to return home as the two countries are grappling with major outbreaks of the coronavirus Delta variant, prompting them to impose lockdowns and other restrictions that interfere with ordinary employment.

Fifty Cambodian workers left Vietnam for Cambodia on August 22 as Ho Chi Minh City went into lockdown. They are among the 64 people who had requested documents from the Cambodian consulate general in Vietnam to return home, according to Svay Rieng provincial deputy governor Ros Pharith

Pharith told The Post on August 24 that the 50 Cambodians had returned via the Bavet International Border Checkpoint.

However, he said the other 14 migrant workers in their group did not leave in time and are now stuck there indefinitely due to the lockdown and curfew orders on the entirety of Vietnam’s largest city, with some reports stating that as many as 35,000 Vietnamese reserve soldiers are deployed on the streets there to ensure enforcement.

According to Pharith, three of the 50 returning migrant workers – all part of a group that went to Vietnam to work as lottery ticket sellers – tested positive for Covid-19 and were sent for treatment, while those who tested negative have to undergo 21-day quarantine.

“Because they have nothing to do there, they asked the Cambodian consulate general in Ho Chi Minh City to process a formal permission letter to send them home,” Pharith said.

In the period between the reopening of the border on August 13 through August 23, a total of 3,789 Cambodian workers returned from Thailand via Oddar Meanchey province. Among them, 474 tested positive for the virus, according to the provincial administration.

Provincial Department of Information director Phal Lim said that on average between 100-200 Cambodian workers returned to Cambodia through the province each day. On August 23 alone, there were 238 returning workers with 20 among them testing positive.

In Banteay Meanchey province, information department director Sek Sokhom said that in the 10 days since the reopening of border checkpoints, more than 5,000 Cambodian workers had returned with many of them testing positive for Covid-19.

“The number of workers entering the province has not decreased since [August 13]. More than 5,000 workers have come back and around 1,000 have tested positive for Covid-19,” he said.

He added that the influx was occurring because the Covid-19 outbreak and employment situation in Thailand had grown worse just in time for the upcoming P’chum Ben holiday, which traditionally sees large numbers of Cambodians visiting their families in hometowns.

Moeun Tola, executive director of labour rights CENTRAL, said recently that Covid-19 in Thailand was forcing Cambodian workers to return home because their workplaces have been shut down and jobs are scarce.

Complicating matters further, only a small number of the returning workers were vaccinated while in Thailand.

“The Covid-19 outbreak [in Thailand] of the delta variant has left their lives in chaos – especially those in the labour sector – and this is forcing Cambodian migrant workers to return home in order to survive,” he said.

Tola supports the Cambodian government’s decision to reopen the border for troubled workers to return for economic reasons and in order for them to receive medical treatment if they are infected with the virus.