Cambodians Allowed to Return Home Without Covid-19-Free Certificates

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A plane at Phnom Penh International Airport on March 23, 2020. (Chorn Chanren/VOD)
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Cambodian citizens will be allowed to enter the country without a health certificate declaring them free of Covid-19, which is required for arriving foreign nationals, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced on Wednesday.

The move follows news reports, including from VOD, of a number of Cambodians stranded in international airports in recent weeks, with some saying they did not have the money or necessary documents to return home.

Now, returning Cambodians will face fewer requirements, but like foreigners they will still need to provide a sample for coronavirus testing upon entering the country, and, if they test negative initially, they will need to self-isolate for 14 days, the premier said in a Facebook post.

“This measure will put people overseas at ease to return and meet their family in the country soon,” Hun Sen said. 

The Health Ministry said in a statement that while Cambodians would be exempt from the requirement announced last week that all people arriving needed a record showing they tested negative for Covid-19 within 72 hours of their departure, all other entry requirements remained in effect. 

On May 20, the ministry said everyone entering the country would be tested for Covid-19 and sent to a waiting center while processing their samples, which takes about 24 hours. If one or more arriving travelers test positive for Covid-19, all travelers on the patient’s flight will be quarantined for 14 days at a government-designated location, the ministry added.

Cambodia has confirmed a total 124 cases of Covid-19 since January, with the only two active cases reported last week, soon after an entry ban on people traveling from six nations was lifted. The country’s other 122 coronavirus patients have recovered, according to the Health Ministry.

Following Wednesday’s announcement, seven Cambodians who were stopped in South Korea on the way to Phnom Penh will be able to return home, said Long Dimanche, Cambodia’s ambassador to South Korea. 

Keng Sreymean, a migrant worker from Banteay Meanchey province, told VOD on Tuesday that she and six other Cambodian women had been working in casinos in Zambia. The group left Zambia on May 23 to return to Cambodia via Seoul, but South Korean immigration officials stopped them upon their arrival on May 24 because none of the women had health certificates. 

Sem Thida, another of the seven stuck in Seoul, said the group was told by Cambodian embassy officials on Wednesday that they would be able to depart South Korea that day, and the embassy would give them hand sanitizer and $1,000 to split between the group. 

Dimanche said the seven women had no work in Zambia after the casinos that employed them closed, and the Zambian government would not allow them to reenter because they had overstayed their visas. In addition, South Korean officials would expel them by Wednesday or Thursday because they did not have a visa to enter South Korea, Dimanche said.  

The ambassador said he had worked with both Cambodian and South Korean officials in order to facilitate their return. 

Sreymean said she appreciated the government’s help to get home.

“We are very grateful to the Cambodian government that helped make a compromise for us to return back to Cambodia and also thank the government again for helping other workers overseas,” she said in a message.

Last week, the Cambodian Embassy in Malaysia said that Cambodians abroad, including 143 nationals stuck in Malaysia who have been trying to return home, would need a Covid-19-free health certificate to fly to Cambodia. 

In an email on Sunday, the Cambodian Embassy in Malaysia said that embassy officials had been working to arrange a Malaysia Airlines flight for stranded workers since May 1.

While Malaysia’s Movement Control Order is in effect until at least June 9, the embassy said its officials had requested that the Malayasian government permit the airline to arrange a return flight. The embassy has also provided food donations to more than 1,500 Cambodian citizens, including undocumented individuals. 

Soeng Senkaruna, spokesman for human rights group Adhoc, said it’s the responsibility of the government to help citizens who are stranded abroad during the global pandemic.

“[The government] should not delay and let our people drift overseas,” Senkaruna told VOD. “Our embassy should do whatever it takes to intervene, as the authority. The government has to help people overseas who are suffering during Covid-19.”

(Additional reporting by Ouch Sony and Danielle Keeton-Olsen)

(Translated and edited from the original article on VOD Khmer)

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