Battambang provincial governor Nguon Ratanak said about 14,000 Cambodian migrant workers who had returned from Thailand amid the Covid-19 pandemic had completed their 14-day quarantine while 1,000 others remained isolated.
Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, Ratanak said a small number of Cambodian workers have illegally returned to Thailand, despite the borders being officially closed.
Not all the workers are native to Battambang, he said, but hailed from all over the country and only returned through the province. The number of migrant workers who returned home through Battambang has surpassed 15,000 since March 21, he said.
Ratanak pointed out that none of the 14,000 workers had tested positive for Covid-19, and the 10 patients who tested positive previously in the province have since recovered.
“Battambang residents are pleased to hear that our provincial administration has done something about Covid-19.
“The provincial administration has been following the prime minister’s orders to ban religious gatherings and close schools and entertainment venues,” he said.
Ratanak said there are still migrant workers returning to Cambodia through international border checkpoints between Battambang and Thailand, while those who have illegally crossed back into Thailand were caught and repatriated by Thai soldiers.
He said some of the workers returned to Thailand with the help of its citizens, who transported and dropped them off on the Thai side of the border in defiance of their government’s directive that nearly all crossings remain shut.
Ratanak said farm owners in Thailand, especially in neighbouring Chonburi province, are in dire need of labourers, which created an incentive for some Thais to try and smuggle Cambodian workers in.
But Thai authorities have found out about the problem and have started putting a stop the practice.
“In the past few days there have been over 100 of them crossing this way, but Thai authorities saw them and called us to repatriate them,” he said.
Provincial health department director Roeung Bunreth said at the press conference that Cambodian migrant workers returning from Thailand are being carefully divided and put into quarantine.
He also urged those completing quarantines to continue practising social distancing and maintain their hygiene.
Provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc Yin Mengly said the authorities have been handling the situation well and adhering to the Ministry of Health’s guidelines.
The 15,000 workers who have completed or are currently in quarantine were provided accommodation and food.
He said some Cambodian workers illegally crossed back into Thailand to find work to pay off debt.
“They are faced with livelihood problems. It does not mean they don’t have rice to eat but they have financial obligations,” he said.
He said most of them took loans from banks and microfinance institutions, and need to maintain their sources of incomes to avoid having their property seized.
The government should take measures to help them by providing financial aid, or offering a three to six-month deferral on loans. Then they will no longer take the risk of illegally crossing the border,” Mengly said.