Some migrant workers, returning from Thailand to escape a Covid-19 surge and joblessness there, say they are finding the transition back to their hometowns challenging due to quarantine, debt and difficulty finding opportunities.
A Delta variant outbreak in Thailand has seen daily cases reach around 20,000 a day, leading to factory closures and unemployment among many Cambodian workers there. Thousands of migrants have returned to the country after facing livelihood challenges across the border.
Lak Loeun, 33, said he returned from Thailand with his family on July 21, but he was still in quarantine in Siem Reap province after recovering from Covid-19. His pregnant wife was still receiving treatment for Covid-19 in Banteay Meanchey province, he said.
As they both recovered from Covid-19, the long quarantine period was adding further pressure to their finances, Loeun said.
“I’ve spent about $1,000 and owe more to others to pay for food,” he said. “I don’t have money now, and it’s hard to borrow money from others.”
Loeun said he was concerned how they would earn their living even once they got out. They had no land, and they had debt. He wasn’t sure how he would pay for his wife to give birth.
Another returnee, Nim Sina, said she had gone to Thailand to try to repay loans, and now that they were back in Pursat province her family still faced the same difficulties.
“We want to run a business, but we do not have the capital,” Sina said.
“I’m worried about everything,” she said. “We came [back] with no money, and were placed in quarantine for over a month. We didn’t earn anything.”
Government spokesperson Phay Siphan said there was help available for those who lacked food, and they should speak to their local authorities.
Regarding debt, people could contact the lending institutions to ease the pressure, he said.
“Microfinance institutions and banks have issued many programs to facilitate their debtors. Therefore, what they have to do is to contact the lenders of any institution they are involved with and ask them to find a program to respond to their responsibilities as a debtor,” Siphan said.
Dy Thehoya, program officer at labor rights group Central, said many returnees were under pressure, making them vulnerable to potential exploitation, especially by labor and immigration brokers as they are looking for jobs abroad to get money and solve their families’ problems. Children were also more likely to be kept out of education, he said.