Hundreds Rush Home From Thailand Before Border Closure

4 min read
Authorities at the O’Smach International Border Checkpoint check temperatures of Cambodian workers returning from Thailand, in a photograph posted to the Immigration Department’s Facebook page on March 23, 2020.

More than 300 Cambodians came through the O’Smach checkpoint in Oddar Meanchey — almost as many as had returned this whole month — ahead of the closing of borders with Thailand, while other border provinces prepared curfews and lockdown restrictions.

Two areas of the Oddar Meanchey provincial capital had been roped off as patients were found with Covid-19’s Delta variant, and travel in and out of the province would be largely banned, said Dy Rado, Oddar Meanchey’s deputy governor.

Provincial officials met in the morning to discuss the enforcement of government orders — made late Wednesday — to lock down eight provinces near the Thai border and impose restrictions nationwide. Oddar Meanchey had opted against a nighttime curfew for now, Rado said.

By mid-afternoon, more than 300 migrant workers had entered the province since the morning through the O’Smach checkpoint. Rado previously said about 400 Cambodians had returned in total since early July.

It was the last day before borders would be closed, he said. “It is a major measure to prevent a fast spread of that Delta virus into our communities, villages and districts.”

Rado said the responsibility for turning back Cambodians seeking to get into the country would fall to the ministries of foreign affairs and labor.

The provinces of Battambang, Koh Kong and Siem Reap, meanwhile, said they would be imposing a curfew in their provinces while eyeing further measures.

Battambang deputy provincial governor Soeum Bunrith said an emergency meeting was held today and a decision was made to start its curfew Thursday night. Discussions were also held about placing areas in red, orange and yellow zones, he said.

The possibility of closing markets was also discussed. No decisions were yet made about the three-color zones, and the province would try to minimize the impacts on livelihoods, he said.

“What the government paid attention to regarding provinces along the border is about trying to stop and prevent the spread of the new variant Delta in the community,” Bunrith said. “Delta is a kind of virus that is very dangerous. … It is more severe than the normal Covid-19.”

The province would work with families in the province who have relatives living as migrants in Thailand to help disseminate the information about not being allowed to return home at this time, Bunrith said.

Alcohol sales, gatherings for drinks, and sporting activities were all banned, he added. “The important thing is the participation by people. It is really important. We can’t do anything without the participation of people.”

The province had seen a recent uptick in Covid-19 cases, recording over 100 infections a day, including 125 on Wednesday, Bunrith said. Previously, Battambang had been seeing just 20-30 cases per day. Seven Delta cases had so far been found, and a total of 33 people had died from Covid-19. The province has recorded 2,942 total cases.

Ly Samreth, deputy governor of Siem Reap province, said his province already had a 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. curfew that would now start from 9 p.m.

Four communes in Siem Reap city — Slakram, Svay Dangkum, Kokchak, and Sala Kamroeuk — would be designated as orange zones following the discovery of Delta cases. Seventeen cases of the variant had so far been found in the province, he said.

Nationwide, Covid-19 cases were seeing a slight downturn, but Siem Reap continued to see many cases and at least one death on most days, Samreth said. The province has seen 6,116 total Covid-19 cases as of Wednesday, according to the provincial administration.

Koh Kong provincial deputy governor Som Khit Vien said his province had already shut down its border to Thailand except for goods transport. Travel in and out of the province was also restricted.

Nevertheless, the province had facilities ready for previous and future returnees, he said. “If they arrive, how could we chase them back? … They are our Cambodian people.”

Koh Kong’s curfew would be 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. — rather than the recommended 3 a.m. finish, Khit Vien said. Dining-in at restaurants would also be banned.

Red, orange and yellow zones were still being discussed. The province had yet to record a Delta case, he added.

Labor Ministry spokesman Heng Sour said Cambodian and Thai authorities were working with employers in Thailand to avoid job losses among Cambodians during the border closure.

The labor and foreign affairs ministries had teams in place to help Cambodians there with food and medicine if needed, Sour said.

Travel is restricted across Thailand, and Cambodians in the neighboring country should seek help from the Cambodian Embassy rather than try to return, he said.

“For those who do travel, by whatever means, the Thai side will require the owner of the car or the owner of the transportation service to send the brothers and sisters back to your original place of residence in Bangkok or in the provinces,” Sour said. “That is why we ask all brothers and sisters to stay in place, because if you come on the road, the Thai authorities will require the car to be diverted back.”

Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Koy Kuong said the Cambodian Embassy in Thailand was working with the country’s authorities on the matter. “The embassy has also informed Cambodians living and working in Thailand.”

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