COVID-Infected Cambodian Migrants in Thailand Beg Phnom Penh and Bangkok for Help

A group of 50 coronavirus-infected Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand are calling on the governments of both their home and host countries to provide medical treatment and other support, the migrants told RFA.

Among the group stuck in a makeshift quarantine shelter in the Thai capital Bangkok are a nine-year-old child and two babies younger than nine months, all housed in plastic tents in the city’s Vibhavadi Rangsit area. The workers told RFA’s Khmer Service that they are running short on food and lack medicine for treatment.

“The infants are sick, and we have begged to have them sent to a hospital, but our request was rejected. They said the hospital is full,” Reab Sarin, a 37-year old construction worker from Cambodia’s northwestern Oddar Meanchey province, said Tuesday.

“Sadly, I feel that they do not care about our Khmer situation. They are leaving us to take care of it on our own, whether we live or die. My biggest worry is that my nephew, who has a five-month-old baby, and his daughter who has a two-month-old baby too,” he said.

“I am scared. I live separately from my wife and kids. I have a serious sore throat and headache. I am completely exhausted and have no appetite,” Reab Sarin told RFA on Monday.

He said he has been infected for about a week, so he is unable to work, but the Thai authorities have not visited or made arrangements to send him to a hospital.

“I hope the government can intervene and send me to a hospital for COVID treatment. Don’t abandon me like this. I don’t have any money left,” he said.

The five-month-old baby’s mother, Reab Sreypov, told RFA that she and her child both came down with COVID-19 over the last few days and they have not been receiving treatment. A lack of food has made breastfeeding impossible.

After learning that the mother and child had become infected, her Thai employer forced her to stay in quarantine with other infected migrant workers but without supplying them with enough food, she said.

“The Thai authorities gave me a paracetamol pill,” she said, using an alternative name for acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol.

“But they didn’t dispatch any medical practitioners to take care of us. They quickly took photos and left without asking us anything. They basically are not paying any attention to Cambodian migrant workers, but Thai citizens are sent for medical treatment at hospitals,” Reab Sreypov said.

“I told them that my baby is experiencing breathing difficulties and I begged them to take the baby in for medical treatment, but they didn’t listen,” she said.

On Sunday, the migrant workers posted group photos and video clips of themselves on Facebook, calling on the Cambodian and Thai governments for urgent help.

“We request that the government help us in Thailand as we suffer as infectees of COVID-19 and have not been sent for treatment at hospital… We have been forced to quarantine and are not allowed to go out from this area. Infected Thai citizens are sent to hospitals for medical treatment,” their online plea said.

“Authorities distributed only canned fish or sardines, eggs and instant noodles for us to eat. We have been abandoned here for over a week. We call on Samdech [Prime Minister] Hun Sen to help his citizens in Thailand,” they said, using an honorific title.

RFA attempted to contact the Cambodian embassy in Bangkok and Heng Suor, the spokesman for Cambodia’s Ministry of Labor, but neither could be reached for comment.

The migrant workers said that an official at the Cambodian embassy told them that the embassy had requested that the Thai authorities help intervene in the case, but the Thai authorities required them to undergo treatment at their workplaces.

The embassy then said that it could not help them and that it was the responsibility of their employers to provide them with adequate food and accommodations.

The Thailand-based office of BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service, attempted to contact the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration’s department of disease control and department of medical services, but no one answered.

Patima Tungpuchayakul, the founder of Labor Protection Network (LPN), a Thai NGO, told BenarNews that migrant workers should call the network’s hotline for assistance.

“The LPN has translators for migrant workers to contact and help them to access hospitals. We give consultancy and help contact related government agencies because some of them can’t get the access, and we help negotiate the bill when it is too high,” she said.

“We call on the government to have assistance guidelines and give vaccine to the workers. By the way, we understand that vaccines are not sufficient for Thai citizens lately,” said Patima Tungpuchayakul.

Dy Thehoya, a labor rights official for the Cambodia-based Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL), told RFA that the Cambodian government has a responsibility to intervene in this case given the danger presented by the disease.

“The Thai government should take serious measures against the Thai owners or employers who try to conceal information and allow those infected with COVID-19 to experience serious health conditions without proper treatment. This negligence and it is only allowing the infection to spread. The Cambodian embassy in Thailand should closely monitor the situations and respond promptly,” Dy Thehoya said.

Tith Phalla, an official defending the rights of Cambodian workers in Thailand, said the Cambodian and Thai authorities should help the Cambodian workers immediately, especially the young children He said the workers’ lives are in jeopardy because most of them are malnourished and in poor health.

“There are a lot of cases like this that are contagious, and they do not receive timely treatment… I think that if this is left unchecked, the epidemic could grow worse,” Thith Phalla said.

Elsewhere in Bangkok, a 45-year-old Cambodian worker named Soeung Soth died in a bedroom on June 19. Thai authorities sent his body for an autopsy and confirmed that he had been infected with COVID-19.

His body was cremated, and his wife is currently undergoing COVID-19 treatment.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sok Ry Sum and Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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