Myanmar & COVID-19

Myanmar Migrants’ Return from Thailand Delayed Over Travel Hassles

By Zaw Zaw Htwe 30 April 2020

YANGON—The return of more than 16,000 Myanmar migrant workers from Thailand on Friday will be delayed for a few more days as authorities on both sides are discussing safe travel procedures for the migrants within Thailand, where travel restrictions and a curfew are in place due to the coronavirus.

U Tayzar Aung, the district administrator of Karen State’s Myawaddy Township, on the Thai border, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that the plan for the Myanmar workers to return has been halted due to the recent extension of the state emergency in Thailand. Myanmar had previously secured approval from Thailand to bring its workers home via land borders and repatriation flights.

“We are discussing allowing a travel pass for our workers and holding a meeting between Myanmar and Thailand today,” U Tayzar Aung said on Thursday.

He said that they expect that Myanmar migrant workers will be able to return home on Sunday.

As of Tuesday, more than 16,000 Myanmar workers in Thailand had registered to return home, said U Thant Zin Aung, a member of the Karen State parliament from Myawaddy. The Myanmar embassy in Bangkok also encouraged the workers to register if they want to return to Myanmar.

However, all returnees must be quarantined at government facilities for 21 days and then enter home quarantine for seven additional days.

In late March, after around 40,000 migrants returned home to Myanmar through land border checkpoints, the government initially requested that all other Myanmar citizens wishing to return home wait two weeks before crossing at the Myawaddy-Mae Sot border point. But the border closure was extended to the end of April, as Myanmar needed to prepare enough quarantine centers and health care provisions.

However, as a measure to curb the spread of COVID-19, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha extended the country’s state of emergency on Tuesday for one more month until May 31. The move extended restrictions on travel between provinces as the country maintains a nationwide curfew from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m., according to Thai media.

The Myanmar Embassy in Thailand issued an announcement on Wednesday saying that they have been discussing with the Thai government how to allow Myanmar migrants to return home.

Currently, the Myanmar government has also planned to arrange relief flights from about five countries to bring home Myanmar nationals stranded abroad by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Myanmar State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said in a video conference with health professionals on Wednesday that an estimated 100,000 Myanmar migrant workers abroad would return home if they are able. She said an estimated 50,000-100,000 migrant workers would return from neighboring countries, including Thailand, China and Malaysia.

“According to our policy, we must accept all returnees whether they are legal or illegal workers abroad,” said the State Counselor.

The Myanmar Embassy in China announced on Wednesday that about 25,000 Myanmar workers who are working in China will enter Myanmar soon, passing through the Kokang Self-Administered Zone in Shan State.

The workers in China are primarily agricultural laborers sector who normally depart for China in November and December after the farming season in Myanmar ends, and then return home in April and May, according to the Myanmar Embassy in China.

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