Coronavirus blockade leaves migrant workers stranded in Thailand | Thailand News

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Bangkok, Thailand When the Thai government began closing the country's capital last week, tens of thousands of migrant workers, who suddenly became unemployed, rushed back to Myanmar.

But now that the government has tightened its borders, some abandoned migrants have been forced to accept the consequences of their decision to remain in the capital, Bangkok.

For Ma Moe Moe, a migrant worker from Myanmar, returning home is not an option. The 44-year-old worker has lived in Thailand for years and has worked in factories most of the time she has been in the country.

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Last week, Ma Moe Moe and dozens of her coworkers were suddenly fired. The silk garment factory, where they worked, closed because most of its exports to China stopped as a result of the economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Feeling discouraged, Ma Moe Moe told Al Jazeera that her former employer had little sympathy for her situation. And now, unable to go home and out of work, she is trapped in limbo.

"Because I was fired from the factory, I am concerned about the bills because my husband only has one source of income," she told Al Jazeera.

"Now that I don't have a job, I feel depressed," she said, explaining that her husband's salary was also reduced because she is no longer able to work night shifts as a result of the closure of Bangkok.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), between four and five million migrant workers from neighboring countries, including Myanmar and Cambodia, were living in Thailand when the closure was announced. METERany other is not documented.

Migrant workers are vulnerable during the migration process, says IOM, and even more so are those who migrate irregularly, as they are at risk of being exploited due to their uncertain legal status.

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Speaking to Al Jazeera from his studio, Ma Moe Moe said that He was afraid that he would not be able to return to Thailand if he left andWith a family to support, she and her husband are snuggling together.

And then there is the question of what would happen in Myanmar, which is also closing borders and imposing strict quarantines.

"No migrant worker from Myanmar that I know will return to Myanmar," he said. Ye Htut, husband of Ma Moe Moe.

"We will be quarantined for 14 days in Myanmar with poor facilities in a school, hospital or temple. Only after that will we be able to meet our families."

Over the weekend, more than 40,000 people crossed into Cambodia, while on the other side of the country, thousands more people crowded the border at Mae Sot in hopes of returning to Myanmar.

But observers have expressed concern that migrants may carry the virus back to their homeland, which could risk intensifying outbreaks in less developed nations.

In a recent statement, IOM Regional Immigration Health Specialist Patrick Duigan warned that the disease could spread during bus trips.

"Many of them come from rural communities in Myanmar, Cambodia and the Lao People's Democratic Republic, which are relatively poorly prepared to monitor, test or treat COVID-19 cases," he said.

So far, Myanmar has reported only five confirmed cases of COVID-19, while Cambodia has included 96. However, very few tests have been conducted in these nations and many believe that the numbers are likely to be much higher.

Cross-border infections

Across the border in Myanmar, officials have expressed concern about the virus, but insist that the situation is under control.

It is unclear what steps Myanmar is taking to repatriate its citizens, but authorities have established quarantine zones and are reportedly training those who arrive at quarantine for 14 days.

"We cannot confirm how many people we have prepared for, because the number continues to change as we receive offers of help from different stakeholders for quarantine facilities." Daw Khin Khin Gyi, director of the Central Sub-Department for Communicable Disease Prevention and Eradication of the Myanmar Ministry of Health and Sports (MOHS), told The Irrawaddy, a news website.

For its part, Cambodia has encouraged its migrant workers not to return, but the appeal did little to prevent thousands from heading to the border when Bangkok closed.

Monitored border temperatures were being taken from those who entered Cambodia, but of the tens of thousands of returning Cambodian migrants, only 35 were screened for the virus, according to authorities.

Highly vulnerable population

Those who decided to stay in Thailand face a different set of challenges as they deal with the economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic.

Suthasinee Kaewleklai, Project Coordinator for the Migrant Workers Rights Network (MWRN), a Thailand-based organization that supports migrant workers in Myanmar, said migrants are even more vulnerable.

"Migrant workers are now unable to work as planned," said Suthasinee. "Their lives are more difficult now and they live in fear."

While Bangkok depends on migrant workers, from construction to hospitality, factories and housekeeping, the Thai government has offered little support.

Myanmar workers wait at the Mae Sot Immigration Office in Thailand along the Myanmar border (Chiravuth Rungjamratratsami / AP)

Suthasinee said the Thai government only offers limited assistance, including temporary visa extensions, and that immigrants can apply for social assistance through an "unemployment policy." But she said it is rarely given to migrant workers.

The closure and a radical state of emergency are expected to continue until April 30. Among the measures, the Thai government included a ban on the public assembly and a call to discourage inter-provincial travel.

Some are concerned that the curfew will be imposed

Ye Htut, Ma Moe Moe's worker and husband, said many migrants are now concerned that the new state of emergency may make things even more difficult.

"Due to the (state of emergency) we did not get to work overtime, which brought us good income sooner. Some factories are closed, some employees are reduced and laid off like what happened to my wife," he explained.

For Mo Mae Mae, all she has in mind is how she is going to support her two children.

She says that she cannot simply apply for other jobs, as her work permit only allows her to work in a factory. He is now seeking compensation along with the other workers who were fired from the clothing factory.

"We are angry and upset that the employer is ignoring everything. He is not willing to pay compensation," he said. "We told him we don't have anything now."

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