Cambodian migrant workers returning from neighboring Thailand amid the coronavirus pandemic say authorities are keeping them in quarantine facilities near the Thai border more than twice as long as required, resulting in the spread of COVID-19 infections in the centers.
Nearly 240,000 Cambodian laborers have returned from Thailand from March 2020 through Sept. 8, according to the International Organization for Migration in Cambodia. Many came back through Oddar Meanchey province in far northwestern Cambodia.
The Cambodian government’s coronavirus containment policy calls for 21 days of quarantine for nationals who return to avoid the outbreak of the Delta variant of the virus in Thailand. More than 23,000 Cambodian workers in Thailand have contracted the COVID-19 virus, according to the Thai Ministry of Health.
As of Friday, Cambodia recorded nearly 98,200 total coronavirus cases, including nearly 16,500 imported ones with a large number of them found among migrant workers returning from Thailand, according to the country’s Health Ministry. Cambodia has registered a total of 2,019 deaths, including 12 new ones today.
Complaints about the extended isolation periods surfaced after many workers stuck in the facilities long beyond the mandatory three weeks set by the Health Ministry were infected with coronavirus.
Oddar Meanchey province has 22 quarantine centers temporarily housing thousands of Cambodian migrant workers who have returned from Thailand.
A resident of Kampong Thom province who was working in Thailand and returned to Cambodia via Oddar Meanchey said 10 laborers caught the coronavirus after being quarantined inside Anlong Veng District Stadium during the regular quarantine period.
The 34-year-old worker, who declined to be named, blamed the infections on poor hygiene and authorities who placed them in facilities with others who had tested positive for COVID-19.
“It will be too risky if this continues,” he said, adding that authorities are keeping him in the facility for another three weeks.
The quarantine period “will be almost two months,” he said. “I wonder if we contracted the virus because we are sleeping closely to each other.”
More than 1,000 workers are quarantined in the center, some of whom have had to say there for more than two months, with up to 14 living in cramped rooms with shared bathrooms, he said.
“If people stay together for too long, there is a great risk that they may stage protests,” the worker said.
No ability to earn income
Another worker who recently returned from Bangkok said she tested negative twice for the COVID-19 virus before arriving in Cambodia.
The 29-year-old mother with a newborn said she contracted the virus while spending 20 days in a quarantine facility in the border area of Oddar Meanchey province, where authorities sprayed no sanitizer to kill germs, even in areas where workers had become infected.
Being stuck inside the centers means that workers cannot earn money to make ends meet, she said.
“We face income issues especially now we are stuck like this, so health is key,” the woman said.
Another female worker with two infants recently tested positive for the virus, so that workers “will end up staying here for months without being able to go back home,” the first female laborer said.
Chea Piseth, administrative director of Oddar Meanchey’s Provincial Hall, told RFA that authorities are preparing quarantine facilities where returning workers will stay for 21 days because they are at risk for carrying the Delta variant.
If they test negative at the end of the three weeks, then authorities will let them go on to their home provinces, he said, but rejected accounts that workers had to remain in isolation longer than the required period.
“They are quarantined for three weeks at the Oddar Meanchey base and two weeks at their own base — not a few months,” he said. “It would never be like that because there is no money to feed them rice. It is in the health rules … Everything is done in accordance with the rules.”
Civil society officials say they believe that the authorities should address this issue immediately so that other returning workers do not become infected.
Srey Naren, coordinating officer of human rights organization Adhoc in Oddar Meanchey province, said the extended quarantine periods are putting the migrant workers at further risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus.
“Because the virus is so contagious and is spreading faster than it was before, once someone is infected, their health is affected even after recovery,” he said.