Hundreds of migrant workers poured back into the country on Friday as its borders to Covid-19-hit Thailand reopened, and the flow is expected to continue in the coming days as many Cambodians face difficulties in the neighboring country.
In Banteay Meanchey province, governor Um Reatrey told reporters that more than 600 people have come through four border checkpoints during the morning.
At one gate, 335 people received rapid tests for Covid-19, with 37 positive cases, he said.
“We have not faced any difficulties yet,” Reatrey said. But it was tiring work for doctors and other frontline staff, including soldiers who are transporting the new arrivals, he said.
They just had to get through the next few days, and things should return to normal, Reatrey said. “In a day, if 1,000 come, we will have some difficulties.”
The province had prepared several quarantine and treatment centers, and it was preparing another quarantine area to house up to 4,000 arrivals that should be ready in a week, he added.
The biggest checkpoint, the Poipet international border crossing, remained closed at the request of Thai officials, he said.
Dy Thehoya, program officer at labor rights group Central, said there were 250 to 350 migrants coming through every gate up and down the border, and the numbers were unlikely to go down.
“They will continue to come, because the situation in Thailand is very difficult for them, so they will flock to return,” he said.
Thailand’s Covid-19 outbreak has meant loss of employment for many Cambodian workers, especially at factories.
“They are struggling with food. … They need to return home,” Thehoya said.
On Facebook, one woman posted that she had waited all night at the Poipet border in a long queue. “Brothers and sisters, please help share. … There are people with young children and pregnant women.”
Oddar Meanchey deputy provincial governor Dy Rado said there were about 60 migrant workers coming through the O’Smach border gate in the morning, but he expected the number to rise in the evening.
An Saray, a factory worker in Thailand’s Chonburi province, said many Cambodians around him were packing to go home.
He was recovering from Covid-19, and his family would likely try to stay on in Thailand, as it would be hard to repay his debts in Cambodia, Saray said.
“From the time I got Covid-19 until now, I’ve had no one to help me. When I got Covid-19 I wanted to go home. After having recovered, I want to continue to work because at home there’s no work to do,” he said.