In the two days following the government’s reopening of border crossings with Thailand, more than 2,300 migrant workers have returned through checkpoints in four provinces and hundreds of them have tested positive for Covid-19, according to authorities.
The government decided to lift the lockdown of Siem Reap and the seven provinces bordering Thailand on August 13 after imposing it for two weeks to stem the spread of the coronavirus Delta variant.
Authorities in four of the border provinces – Banteay Meanchey, Koh Kong, Battambang and Pursat – confirmed to The Post on August 15 that since the early hours of August 13, there have been large crowds of migrant workers returning from Thailand, many of them through Banteay Meanchey.
Banteay Meanchey provincial Information department director Sek Sokhom told The Post on August 15 that the province had recorded 1,941 migrant workers in total, with 585 arriving on August 13 and 1,356 on August 14.
He said 70 of them tested positive for Covid-19 after crossing through the border checkpoints at Kuk Chambak, Boeung Trakuon and O’Bei Choan.
"According to provincial governor Um Reatrey, the province is ready to receive them as we have 20 existing quarantine centres and they are big buildings.
“If the number of workers returning stands at between 200 and 400 a day, we can handle it. But if it reaches more than a thousand a day, we will have some problems," he said.
Sokhom said Banteay Meanchey had experienced a similar mass movement of migrant workers across the border in the past when Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha took office and forced an estimated 250,000 Cambodians to return home through the Poipet International Border Checkpoint.
"This time it’s not so simple because some carry the Delta variant. It is a big burden for our health workers and other frontline officers. We work without any break processing their return, testing them for Covid-19, bringing them to quarantine centres and providing food,” he said.
According to the information department of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, more than 900 workers returned through the O’Bei Choan checkpoint recently, 159 of them were positive for Covid-19.
In Pursat province, provincial information department director Leat Tit Than said only 24 workers had returned through Thma Dar border checkpoint and all of them are negative for Covid-19. They are undergoing quarantine for 21 days as health protocols dictate.
In the coastal province of Koh Kong, the situation was relatively calm with only six workers returning since the border was reopened, according to the provincial administration’s spokesman Sek Sam Ol.
“We don’t see many migrant workers returning through here. On August 14, only six had returned and they were taken to the quarantine centre. They did not come through the checkpoint that we had set up to receive them, though.
“They hired a broker in Thailand and returned to Cambodia on foot through forests at night. When they reached Cambodia, our village security guards saw them and reported them to the authorities and then brought them to the quarantine centre,” he said.
In Battambang province, provincial governor Nguon Ratanak headed up an official delegation on August 13 that welcomed home 399 workers who returned through the border crossing in Kamrieng district as well as illegal corridors in Sampov Loun district.
Separately on August 14 and 15, Cambodian vendors at Rong Kluea Market in Thailand gathered at the Cambodian consulate general in Sa Keo province demanding to return home.
They were then joined by 837 migrant workers who were brought to the consulate office by Thai authorities in the hope of sending them home at the same time, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.