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Riot fears reopen ‘closed’ Thai border checkpoints as migrant workers flee

Jack Burton

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“We must go home, or we will starve to death in Bangkok.”

Some of Thailand’s recently closed border checkpoints were forced to reopen today as thousands of migrant workers, now unemployed due to the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak, flee Thailand for their homes in Myanmar and Cambodia. Their numbers and their desperation sparked fears of rioting.

In Chiang Rai, the border was reopened after about 100 workers from Myanmar arrived at the Mae Sai checkpoint, only to find it closed. a 28 year old woman in the group, recently laid off due to shutdowns in Bangkok, told reporters:

“We must go home, or we will starve to death in Bangkok.”

The group’s insistence forced the governor and immigration officials to grant them exemptions and allow them to cross the border into Tachileik, Myanmar.

In Mae Sot more than 4,200 Burmese workers were allowed to cross back into their country through the checkpoint.

The atmosphere was also tense at Sa Kaeo’s Aranyaprathet checkpoint near Cambodia. Police had to prevent more than 400 Cambodian workers from protesting against the border closure. The situation eased after Thai and Cambodian authorities decided to reopen the border temporarily.

A bus terminal in the Nakhon Phanom Municipality was also packed with stranded migrant workers from Laos and Vietnam. They were later allowed to pass over the 3rd Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge into Laos.

Meanwhile, Thai workers returning home from Bangkok are being told they must go into 14 day self-isolation.

Checkpoints across the southern border with Malaysia have also been closed. Although Malaysia had already ordered its borders closed earlier, following reports of Covid-19 cases linked to a mosque event in Kuala Lumpur earlier this month.

Malaysia’s nationwide lockdown has also driven Thai workers to return home. However, sources say many failed to comply with the quarantine requirements after they crossed the southern border.

 

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Jack Burton is an American writer, broadcaster, linguist and journalist who has lived in Asia since 1987. A native of the state of Georgia, he attended the The University of Georgia's Henry Grady School of Journalism, which hands out journalism's prestigious Peabody Awards. His works have appeared in The China Post, The South China Morning Post, The International Herald Tribune and many magazines throughout Asia and the world. He is fluent in Mandarin and has appeared on television and radio for decades in Taiwan, Mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau.

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