More than 26,000 Myanmar migrant workers in Thailand have registered with the embassy to return home and are awaiting approval from the Thai government to head for the border amid restrictions on inter-provincial travel in the country aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19.
U Myo Myint Naing, labor attaché at the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that the embassy had asked Thailand’s COVID-19 response committee to allow the migrant workers to travel to land border checkpoints.
He said the embassy is “still waiting for a reply” to the request, which was submitted via Thai foreign affairs officials.
Before Thailand imposed the curfew, many migrants caught night buses in order to reach border checkpoints in the morning. Most migrants head for the Thai border checkpoints at Mae Sot, across from Myawaddy in Karen State; Mae Sai, across from Tachileik in Shan State; or Ranong, across from Kaw Thaung in Tanintharyi Region in southern Myanmar.
Thailand’s 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. curfew and restrictions on movement between provinces, which are in place until the end of this month in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus, have had a serious impact on the migrants, many of whom have been left without jobs and income.
For those migrants waiting to return to Myanmar, the labor attaché said the embassy “will relay the message as soon as we can,” as everyone is asking when they can travel back to Myanmar.
The border checkpoints were closed for the whole month of April as both the Myanmar and Thai governments sought to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
In late March, nearly 80,000 migrants returned to Myanmar through the second Mae Sot-Myawaddy Friendship Bridge border checkpoint, according to Karen State Chief Minister Daw Nang Khin Htwe Myint.
The Myanmar government has prepared quarantine centers in Myawaddy, as well as in Paan, the capital of Karen State, and other towns as all returnees will be required to undergo mandatory quarantine at designated facilities in their respective communities for 21 days. They will receive health screening and temperature checks at the border and will need to self-quarantine at home for an additional seven days after the initial three-week period.
Despite the Thai restrictions, between May 1 and Tuesday 180 people passed through the Mae Sot-Myawaddy border control checkpoint, according to U Thant Zin Aung, a Karen State lawmaker representing Myawaddy constituency.
On Tuesday, 22 returnees crossed the border at Myawaddy in the early evening about 20 minutes before the border closed, the lawmaker said. The border gate is open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
A migrant returnee among the 22 said on Tuesday morning they were told by the Thai authorities that the border gate was closed, but they waited and were allowed to cross after officials from both countries held talks.
Karen State has made preparations to place about 5,000 people in quarantine centers when the returnees arrive, the Karen State chief minister said during a teleconference with State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday.
Many others will have to travel to their hometowns in Bago and Magwe regions and Mon State, she added.
The coronavirus pandemic, which originated in China’s Wuhan city, had infected 3,489,053 people and claimed 241,559 lives worldwide as of Tuesday, according to the World Health Organization.
Thailand has around 3,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases with 54 fatalities.
As of Monday, Myanmar had 161 confirmed COVID-19 cases with six deaths.
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